[WATCH] Under fire Prime Minister in meeting with social partners over COVID-19 situation

Nurses’ union chief expects Prime Minister to order immediate ban on mass events after this afternoon’s meeting of the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development

Prime Minister Robert Abela giving the introductory speech at a meeting of the MCESD in Castille
Prime Minister Robert Abela giving the introductory speech at a meeting of the MCESD in Castille
Nurses union boss Paul Pace: PM must heed COVID-19 warnings

This is a developing story

Robert Abela is meeting union leaders and employer bodies to brief them on the COVID-19 situation amid a spike in cases.

The Prime Minister is under pressure to ban mass events and ensure measures to curb virus spread are enforced.

The meeting of the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development started at 5pm and is being held in Castille.

Addressing those present, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that a common direction must be reached by the end of today’s meetings. 

“Even if we keep on going into the early hours of the morning, a consensus must be reached,” Abela said. 

The PM said that government understands the recent spike in cases, and is adamant on fixing the situation. 

MUMN President Paul Pace: 'Employers got too greedy and this has now come back to haunt us from a health and economic perspective.'
MUMN President Paul Pace: 'Employers got too greedy and this has now come back to haunt us from a health and economic perspective.'

“Government actions in dealing with the situation we are in is based on two factors – people’s wellbeing and their livelihoods. One cannot work without the other,” he said. 

The government, according to Abela, has recognized the spike in cases, with the cancellation of four major festivals as proof of such attention. 

“We are not stamping out feet. The four events would have netted government around €25 million, which in turn would have been spent on projects such as the improvement of the country’s health services,” he said. 

The MCESD meeting was called by the Prime Minister in the wake of rising concerns over COVID-19 cases
The MCESD meeting was called by the Prime Minister in the wake of rising concerns over COVID-19 cases

Abela also pointed out that the majority of cases in Malta are asymptomatic. 

The PM concluded his intervention by appealing for those present to not go to extremes. 

“When we worked together, we laid a common direction forward and we were successful. Let us repeat that,” he said.

Doctors started industrial action today and nurses are expected to join them from tomorrow as unions representing health workers clamoured for a ban on mass events.

On his way into the meeting, MUMN chief Paul Pace said the country was today paying the price for the attitude adopted by government that the coronavirus battle was won.

“I expect the Prime Minister to immediately stop mass events and even this may not be enough given the numbers we are witnessing. Employers got too greedy [when pressuring government to open up fast] and this has now come back to haunt us from a health and economic perspective,” Pace said.

He insisted it was a mistake to lower the guard so quickly and Malta was paying the price because other countries were now blacklisting travel from the island.

Lithuania stopped all travel from Malta, while Ireland and Estonia imposed a two-week quarantine on whoever flies from the island. The UK is expected to take a decision within the next 24 hours whether to demote Malta from the Green List and impose quarantine on travellers.

UĦM Voice of the Workers CEO Josef Vella told journalists on his way in that unless government stopped mass events his union would also consider industrial action. "Imposing a fine is not enough. It will be ignored but the virus will still be with us," he said.

The MCESD meeting was called by Abela earlier this week as his government faced increasing criticism over its lack of assertiveness in dealing with the coronavirus surge.

Abela’s bullish attitude on COVID-19 is partly to blame for the disquiet that is also palpable among his own supporters.

On his way into Castille, Health Minister Chris Fearne said he expected the government to chart a way forward with the social partners after an explanation of the situation. Fearne and his entourage walked into the building wearing face masks.

READ ALSO: Charmaine Gauci to return with COVID-19 briefings from Castille

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