Robert Abela: 'We did not backtrack on COVID measures, we're listening to the people'

Prime Minister Robert Abela says he is happy with the low-infection results the government directives were reaping, contributing to a certificate of excellence by the World Health Organisation

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

Prime Minister Robert Abela said that the government had not backtracked or u-turned on coronavirus measures announced by health minister Chris Fearne on Thursday but had listened to people's reactions and amended accordingly. 

On Thursday, Fearne announced guidelines suggesting that anyone living with an individual of over 65 years of age should either change residency or isolate himself and not report to work if necessary. A day later, Abela said that such a measure was being retracted.

"The Opposition's criticism on this issue is populist and dangerous, saying that there is a disagreement between myself and Fearne or that we're doing a u-turn. The reality is that the Cabinet met on Thursday and we all agreed unanimously to increase restrictions to stop the infection from spreading.

"However, we listened to people's reactions," he said, and mentioned a couple of examples where families complained that such a measure would make it hard or impossible for the household to function.

"We are listening to people and then issuing a legal notice two days later. This is the way we're operating and it's been working so far. The Cabinet met again on Friday and we reviewed the directive and again agreed unanimously to fine-tune the guidelines. We are issuing sustainable directives so that people can be patient for a longer time," Abela said, speaking on ONE TV on Sunday. 

The Prime Minister said that he was happy with the result of the directives issued over time and said that such measures had contributed to a low number of infections, a statistic, he said, which was hailed by the World Health Organisation as proof of exemplary governance dealing with an epidemic.

"Let's be honest: the measures which this government has announced are harsh and drastic. The elderly are being told not to leave their house unless absolutely necessary; in other countries, this is considered a lockdown," Abela said.

He appealed for the Maltese to keep making sacrifices at this time so that by summer, things could return to normal. He added that the next three weeks for Malta were crucial and that if people don't obey the directives issued by the public health authorities, Malta would stand to suffer.

"But I am proud of the Maltese. They are cooperating. In the absolute majority, our country is being responsible. I am proud of the people for reacting maturely," he said.

Speaking of the economic measures announced by the government, Abela said that 110,000 people would be directly and positively impacted by the financial package and that 60,000 employees will benefit from the full €800-a-month salary.

"This package will cost the government €7 million in direct cash injection per month. If we look at the 2009 financial crisis package issued by the Nationalist Party in government, the package announced by a Labour administration now is ten times bigger than that. 

"During this medical crisis, we brought the social partners together and reached a unanimous and historical agreement. Some people said that we're being aggressive and giving a lot, but I disagree. They are costed measures and needed at this time.

"It doesn't mean that when the pandemic is over, these measures will be pulled away either. We need to look to the future and at the economic impact the pandemic will have," he said, adding that the government would be more generous and announce further schemes in the future.