Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Sunday that while discipline was needed for the number of COVID-19 cases and the rate of transmission to be reduced, he did not want the people to become prisoners in their own homes.

He also defended the tourism minister from calls for her resignation, saying she, and the government, had been acting in line with the directives of the health authorities and Malta could not close attractions which drew tourists.  

"It is not fair to wage attacks on a minister who did her job and followed the law as it was," he said, adding however that talks on what measures were needed to control the virus would continue with the health authorities.

"It is not true that the tourism industry pulled the carpet from under us," he said.

The situation would be kept continually in review, and he would have a meeting with Health Minister Chris Fearne and the superintendent of public health, Charmaine Gauci, later on Sunday, he said.

Abela said social distancing was not being observed and legislative action could be needed. 

"The key is discipline to tackle the situation," he said.

Cruise ships to return  

Asked in an interview with several journalists on One News, if cruise ships would be allowed to return, Abela said very strict protocols would be introduced, including also testing for arrivals at the airport.

But Abela insisted that Malta could not close off attractions to tourists, including boat parties and boat trips to Comino, although more restrictions were being discussed.

Abela said the figures showed that the government had not lost control of the situation, even though the rate of infection had risen.

"We have had an increase in infection but not an increase in the number of critically ill people and we have managed to keep the rate of deaths low."

The elderly and the vulnerable should be protected, he stressed. Everyone's behaviour was important in this sense. 

"I do not want to make the people prisoners in their own home, as New Zealand has done," he said. However clinical measures 'without going overboard' may be needed to reduce the rate of infection.  

'Crucial' that schools reopen

Asked about schools, Abela said directions would be issued by the health authorities but it was crucial, not least for children, that schools were reopened, with the sufficient safeguards.

On mass events, he said 45 had suffered COVID-19 as a result of mass events - the hotel party and the Sta Venera band march -  and the patients had recovered. Therefore the perception that these two activities created today's numbers, 'are mistaken'.

Abela said the government needs to continue to show that the people's health came first, as it had always been.

He said the government had persuaded the ECDC (the EU health body) that migrants who test positive will not be considered with the country's totals. That meant that the total number of cases has been reduced from 1348 to 1175.

Malta, he said, was the European country with the least number of cases. Luxembourg, the richest EU country with a similar population as Malta, had 7,405 cases to Malta's 1,175.

Malta had nine deaths to Luxembourg's 126. 

Abela said Malta was by far leading in Europe in the rate of testing. It was therefore understandable that more cases were found here. And the government was determined to keep up this high rate because the people's health always came first. 

Kitchen Cabinet

Asked about Finance Minister Edward Scicluna's complaints last week that Joseph Muscat had had a 'kitchen Cabinet' which he was not part of, Abela said he was answerable for what took place since he became prime minister.

But he insisted that 'all, all' decisions were now taken by the full Cabinet.

On the resignation of Attorney General Peter Grech on Saturday, he said he would request publication of the resignation letter so that the people could know why he had decided to step down.

Abela said he looked forward to presenting a socialist Budget in keeping with his personal beliefs of being close to the low-income people. 

 

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