[WATCH] Focus must now shift to economy, COVID-19 precautions will be 'reasonable' - PM

Balanced decisions taken in past weeks will be mirrored going forward, as more businesses will start to reopen and focus shifts to economy, Robert Abela says

Robert Abela was speaking during an interview on One Radio on Sunday morning
Robert Abela was speaking during an interview on One Radio on Sunday morning

The precautionary measures, which will be put in place to protect against COVID-19 as more businesses start to reopen in the coming weeks, have to be balanced and not too rigid, Robert Abela said.

The Prime Minister said that the country had fared well in the past seven weeks amid the coronavirus situation because the health-related measures put in place were "neither too drastic nor too light."

"We now have to do the same in the coming weeks. While we will take the necessary precautions, they can't be too rigid or hard. We can't, for instance, reopen restaurants but then discourage people from going. Once restaurants reopen, this means it is safe for people to go to them," he said.

Abela, who was speaking during an interview on One TV on Sunday, said the situation the country will find itself in once businesses start to reopen might be a "new normal".

"But I hope it won't be a normality which is too new. I don't want us to go into a world where we are afraid of each other... this is not the reality I want to live in. We also cannot go back to how we were seven weeks, as if nothing happened."

The Prime Minster said it would be a gradual process of returning to normal, as people slowly adjusted and started feeling confident to go out again.

He underlined that the government would now focus on the economy. "We have to now look to greater economic growth, more than we had before."

"You might ask how we can do this with the tourism sector closed. We have to stimulate and incentivise internal tourism. The negative impact of [international] tourism will be there, but we have to then look wisely at a situation were we start reopening the industry, gradually, according to the advice of the health authorities."

An optimistic Abela said he was a sure a bright future lay ahead for the country. "I am convinced and certain we will have a good future. The government knows what its doing, and the people answer our calls and are resilient."

He also underlined the need for people to continue observing all health authorities' directives, noting that the country is emerging through this difficult period by acting intelligently.

"The results of Malta and Gozo in the pandemic will be regarded as historic. [...] The people have shown that their courage is bigger than any fear," he said.

Country emerged from a political crisis and then faced a pandemic

Abela noted that, right after being elected, the government was faced with an unprecedented level of political turmoil. 

"The crisis was not a small one and it ran deep. But in a few days we returned to a situation of normality and tranquility in the country. We took difficult decisions, and I listened to everyone," he said.

Immediately after overcoming this problem, Malta was faced with the coronavirus pandemic, he said. "We emerged from a political crisis and entered into a pandemic. And we took hard strategic decisions, and the results now speak for themselves."

Surveys, he said, confirmed that his was the most trusted government the country ever had, as he promised it would keep delivering positive results.

Government wants lasting solution to migration problem

Abela also spoke of the migration problem, saying this was currently being amplified by the pandemic because the EU had never agreed on a plan to deal with the issue.

"We've made it clear to the EU that if we are not helped when it comes to relocation, we won't bring in more migrants. We expect solidarity from the EU, from other non-member European countries, and from the world - this is a global problem which has to be dealt with by everyone."

He said that Malta had this week sent "a very strong message" to Europe. "I want a lasting solution, not only one which applies during the COVID-19 situation."

His comments come after Malta this week withdrew its participation from Operation Irini - the EU naval mission tasked to enforce an arms embargo in Libya - with Armed Forces personnel having been the sole boarding team on the operation. 

READ ALSO | Malta rattles EU with Irini withdrawal, Macron and Merkel schedule calls

The move, a sop to Turkey, which is shipping weapons to the UN-recognised Government of National Accord in Libya, is intended at encouraging the GNA to come down hard on human traffickers and stem flows of irregular migration to Malta. 

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