[WATCH] Coronavirus: After meeting health experts, Delia relaxes call for lockdown

Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia says government should cover 50% of salaries of employees facing the sack due to Covid-19's economic impact as he moderates his stand on lockdown

Opposition leader Adrian Delia
Opposition leader Adrian Delia

Adrian Delia appears to have relaxed calls for an immediate lockdown after meeting public health experts, insisting today that he only mentioned lockdown twice.

The Nationalist Party leader avoided mentioning lockdown when delivering a press conference on Tuesday and appeared to moderate earlier calls for an immediate and complete lockdown when asked by the media about his position on the matter.

Delia met with Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci and other healthcare professionals on Monday, a meeting which appears to have left its impact.

Last week, Delia wholeheartedly embraced calls for an immediate lockdown made by the Medical Association of Malta and the UĦM.

Delia said the country was practically three-quarters in lockdown and called for a discussion on which essential services would need to keep being provided and which should be stopped immediately to limit virus spread.

Asked by MaltaToday what the PN's position was on the lockdown - given that government was abiding by the advice of public health authorities on the issue - Delia said that while the health superintendence was giving good advice, putting in place the needed measures immediately was crucial.

"The superintendence gives its advice [...] but the time it takes for the government to react makes all the difference," Delia said.

Had, for instance, the government promptly closed Malta's borders to travel, the number of Covid-19 transmissions would have been reduced, he said. "We could have avoided 90% of transmissions."

In light of the fact that the number of tourists coming to Malta had already drastically dropped due to factors such as the mandatory quarantine measures, Delia asked why the step hadn't been taken to ban all flights, barring those to repatriate Maltese residents. "The only thing [which happens by allowing flights in] is that the risk is greater," he said.

Government should finance 50% worker salaries

Delia said the government should cover 50% of workers' salaries for businesses which are facing problems in retaining employees due to the economic impact of the coronavirus.

The Nationalist Party leader said the 50% should be capped after agreement with industry stakeholders and unions.

The government's financial help to businesses would be provided on the condition that no workers are laid off, he said.

Delia said the government had to bolster the aid it was providing to businesses and ensure that jobs were safeguarded.

Should government fail to help shoulder the salary burden faced by employers, workers would be sacked, he said. This would mean the government would have to pay their unemployment benefit, which would end up costing it more than the cost of covering 50% of capped salaries.

Delia said the government had to declare that it would be shouldering the burden of quarantine leave for workers. "The government should carry this burden," he said.

A third measure the PN leader proposed was for the government to create a structure together with the banking sector to use local banks' "massive supply of liquidity" to postpone loan obligation which businesses have on their existing facilities.

He also said that a new lending package had to be created for people who needed funds. The government, he proposed, could do good for such loans by providing guarantees so as to ensure those borrowing moneys could do so at the lowest rates.

"The Opposition is prepared to immediately help the government in Parliament to pass emergency laws needed for such a financial package to be launched immediately," Delia said, appealing to the government to accept the Opposition’s offer of cooperation.
"We are not in an electoral campaign, competing with each other. We are in a national emergency the likes of which we have very rarely encountered in the past. The government, Opposition and all of society must work together," he said.

The new proposals come after various other measures the PN has suggested in the past days, including cutting power and water tariffs by half, suspending VAT payment for SMEs badly impacted by Covid-19, and delivering all medicines to the elderly, not only those covered by the Pharmacy Of Your Choice (POYC) scheme.

Do or die time for businesses

PN MP and finance shadow minister Mario de Marco said that it was now a "do or die" time for businesses and jobs. "If immediate action is not taken, many businesses and jobs do not have a long life left," he said.

Businesses were facing serious cash flow problems, with hotels having zero revenue, and restaurants and bars having to face the same situation from tomorrow.

"The longer the situation persists and the longer the government takes to tackle this reality, the more [such businesses] will suffer losses," he said, noting that the government's income was also dependent on businesses revenue.

De Marco said that the government should use the €1 billion it expected to earn from social security contributions and the €2 billion it expected to earn from income tax payments to create a fund of at least €200 million to help companies pay salaries.

"Each company benefitting from the fund must ensure no jobs are lost," he said.

The government should also use the National Development and Social Fund, which manages and administers 70% of revenue from the sale of Maltese passports, to help the tourism and retail industry, which employ over 60,000 people, de Marco said.

"Government has boasted of a surplus for years... now is the time for it to use its financial resources to assure that no workers lose their job and that no businesses fail."

Coronavirus recession could be bigger than 2008 financial crisis

PN MP and economy shadow minister Kristy Debono highlighted that it was being predicted that the coronavirus could lead to a global recession much bigger than that of 2008/2009, with a much wider array of economic casualties.

"Malta is in an advantageous position. Unlike in 2009, the price of oil is low and the economy was registering economic growth... so there are the reserves which can be used as a financial buffer to immediately start offering packages, incentives and concrete measures which are effective to help those workers and enterprises which are most affected," she said.


"It is wiser to help SMEs and the self-employed now by giving them a lifeline than by trying to resurrect them later," Debono underlined, as she called for the immediate setting up of the structure for banks to use their liquidity to postpone business loans.