[WATCH] Science and numbers will determine when restrictive measures are lifted, Fearne says

Postponed health services will be restarted in first decision to start lifting COVID-19 restrictions but Chris Fearne warns people must not become complacent

Health Minister Chris Fearne
Health Minister Chris Fearne

Science and numbers will determine when restrictive measures will start being relaxed and not what other countries are doing, Chris Fearne has cautioned.

The Health Minister said some health services that had to be postponed to ensure more resources were dedicated to the fight against COVID-19 can be restarted but was coy about other measures that impacted the economy.

“We are in today’s positive situation because from the very beginning we abided by what science was telling us, and what the numbers were suggesting,” he said, shunning any comparison with other countries.

Some European countries have announced exit strategies to start lifting restrictions but Fearne insisted each country’s case was different and unique.

Speaking on TVM’s Xtra on Thursday night, he said Malta had a large degree of success in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, with a mortality rate that was almost 10 times lower than the international average

“From the very beginning, we started identifying every positive case by carrying out many tests, which we are still doing, isolating them, and keeping the people around them in quarantine. This kept the number of new positive cases to a minimum,” Fearne said.

The Health Minister also praised the public’s cooperation. “People obeying guidelines put out by the health authorities have helped keep the infection rate low, and this also protected the vulnerable members of society from becoming afflicted by the virus.”

However, Fearne warned that people must not become complacent, since this might trigger a second wave of infections. 

“The second wave means that the virus is still there and its effects are still evident. Its ability to infect people easily is still there, and if one starts to dial back measures which were put in place to prevent people from coming into contact with each other, the infection rates could start increasing once more,” he warned.

This note of caution was echoed by Opposition spokesperson Stephen Spiteri.

The Nationalist MP praised the manner in which the country has tackled the crisis, noting that measures such as effective testing and contact tracing have helped to keep what could have been a highly tragic situation at bay.

Spiteri argued that although there is a delicate balance between public health and the economy, the country should prioritise that which is most important. 

“We have managed to keep the infection numbers low and avoid a tragedy because we have been implementing measures which require great sacrifice, and thanks to the sacrifice of the front liners, of the Maltese and Gozitan people, we have managed to arrive to this result. Now, we need to be careful about our future direction. Let us not, because of these positive results, relax in a way which would allow a second wave to come upon us, bringing about new infections, as other countries are currently experiencing,” Spiteri said.

Nevertheless, the Nationalist MP did note that some measures should start to be relaxed if the rate of infection continues to decrease, especially with regard to certain health services which have currently been put on hold.

Fearne agreed, pointing out that there are many other health conditions, such as cancer and heart disease, which should not be ignored.

“At first, so as to devote all our resources to the coronavirus, we reduced some health services and now we need to start increasing these services once more – carrying out ultrasounds, MRIs, CT scans, endoscopies, screening, echos – all these must start to be increased again,” Fearne said.

The two guests both signed off by drawing attention to the importance of mental health at this time, noting that many people are suffering from anxiety because of the current situation.

“The most important thing is solidarity towards each other… It is important that we make contact with people who are at home and are alone, because knowing that there is someone who is thinking about you is of great help,” Fearne said.

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