Migrants to be excluded from Malta’s COVID-19 numbers, Robert Abela says

Prime Minister Robert Abela says more measures may have to be introduced to enforce social distancing, insists coronavirus situation is under control and increase in cases was to be expected

Robert Abela said coronavirus infection rate has to be brought down through targeted measures that do not go overboard
Robert Abela said coronavirus infection rate has to be brought down through targeted measures that do not go overboard

Migrants who tested positive for COVID-19 upon disembarking in Malta will not be counted in the country’s total number of cases, Robert Abela said.

The Prime Minister said the decision was taken following discussions with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

This decision means that Malta’s total number of coronavirus cases since March now stands at 1,175 (until Sunday morning), a reduction of 173 cases.

Abela made the announcement while being interviewed on One TV on Sunday.

The government had initially excluded the migrant numbers given that they were isolated from the first step they took on Maltese soil but later added them to the totals when ECDC ordered so.

It appears that government has now got its way and the numbers will be excluded from Malta’s totals, a move that will make the country statistically more appealing internationally if the number of infected migrant brought ashore continues to increase.

Interviewed by journalists from TVM, NET TV and The Malta Independent, Abela used the occasion to put forward what he described as “facts” that showed the situation was still under control.

He acknowledged that the infection rate had increased but insisted there was no need for restrictive measures that “went overboard”.

The Prime Minister said new rules will have to be introduced to ensure social distancing
The Prime Minister said new rules will have to be introduced to ensure social distancing

Abela said most positive cases were mild and recovering at home, Malta had the lowest number of infections across the EU, the lowest number of deaths and the highest testing rate.

He called for discipline to continue being exercised but insisted the government faced Hobson’s choice when it decided to reopen for tourists.

Acknowledging that Paceville, which has seen the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases (58), presented a particular problem, Abela said closing down the locality, discos and nightclubs would mean shutting down a tourism niche.

He hinted that government will be considering the introduction of new rules to ensure social distancing and a decision on Paceville would be taken later on Sunday.

But Abela refuted suggestions that tourism operators had dictated government’s agenda on reopening the country and added that calls for Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli’s resignation were “hypocritical”.

The minister acted within the parameters of the law, he insisted. “We knew that the moment we reopen our airport and thousands start arriving the number of COVID-19 cases will increase,” he said.

Abela said New Zealand, which adopted an aggressive lockdown that led to no community transmission for more than 100 days, had also experienced a surge in cases the moment it started to ease restrictions.

The Prime Minister said he understood the anger over the Hotel Takeover party and the Santa Venera feast, which were the first two mass events that kick-started the latest surge in cases, but urged people to put things in perspective.

“The clusters from both events amounted to 54 cases and these have now recovered… We could have done without events, discos, nightclubs, without bars, without tourists, no language schools, no festas but this would have meant we don’t get tourists to Malta. Not everything was done perfectly but we had the disadvantage of acting in a situation where leaders all over the world had no manuals to go by,” Abela said.

He reiterated that the authorities have not lost control. “We must not ignore the numbers. We have to reduce the infection rate through clinical measures. Aggressive measures will damage people,” Abela insisted.

The Prime Minister said cruise liners will be allowed to dock in Malta but strict protocols will be followed.

Asked on the reopening of schools, Abela insisted the government will be following the recommendations made by Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci.

“It is crucial that our schools open. We cannot afford to lose a generation in our educational system but we have to ensure schools open with safety protocols in place,” Abela said.

Addressing criticism over his two-day jaunt in Sicily during the same period that new cases in Malta hit record numbers, Abela insisted he was working remotely, adding that he “learnt to appreciate teleworking”.

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