No relaxation of COVID-19 measures for retail, experts tell ministers

Despite the low infection rate, health experts have insisted with Cabinet ministers that relaxing the soft lockdown for retail shops is still too early

Small business owners might have longer to endure in the semi-lockdown Malta is under
Small business owners might have longer to endure in the semi-lockdown Malta is under

Health authorities have told ministers a premature relaxation of COVID-19 lockdown measures could lead to a resurgence of the virus, despite a low number of active cases. 

The warning was made to ministers this week in an appeal not to relax measures for more retail outlets to open. 

Discussions in Cabinet indicated that a relaxation of the COVID-19 precautionary measures could lead to the revision of operations schedules at Mater Dei Hospital and for other medical interventions. 

But the mixed messages of hope from the government amid lower infection rates and faster recoveries were interpreted as an indication that small businesses could be returning to some normality within weeks. 

“This will not be the case,” a political source privy to Cabinet talks said. “We know small retail outlets will be disappointed about it… ministers know summer will be a great challenge in the sweltering heat of July and August.” 

But ministers were also told by health authorities not to use the positive statistics as a sign that they could relax the lockdown measures. “The partial lockdown helped so far, but lifting them could hasten the spread right before the summer,” the source said. 

A spokesperson for the Office of the Prime Minister told MaltaToday that the social distancing protocol will be retained for the foreseeable future. 

The low rate of infection also led to many people taking to their cars last week with a visible increment in vehicular traffic and people taking strolls in the centre of towns and villages. 

Health authorities who spoke to MaltaToday also said that the possibility of false negatives in swabbing tests was possible, but this probability was very small. “If there are other untested individuals who are dying because of COVID-19, the terminal outcome would be pneumonia.” 

Malta’s health efforts in the COVID-19 pandemic have been lauded by the World Health Organisation. Malta has tested one in 20 of inhabitants, while worldwide only three countries – Iceland, Faroe Islands, and the UAE – tested a greater share of their populations. Only one in 10,000 of those tested have died, another great achievement.