Malta-24 News Briefing Friday 7th August 2020

Reading Time: 13 minutes

Updated 1339 – One new case concerns a Skolasajf child

Prof Charmaine Gauci said that one of the 49 cases reported today concerned one child who attended a SkolaSajf centre. The journalist in question asked Gauci whether the child attended Gharghur Skola Sajf, but no reference to the school was made in her reply.

Updated 1308 – Mass events leading to spike in cases – Charmaine Gauci

Prof Charmaine Gauci is back on the television screens, sporting a dark mask, and gave a summary of new, active and total cases.

She repeated PM Abela’s message that the majority of cases had no or mild symptoms. she added that four patients are being recovered at the infectious diseases unit, with one of them, an 84 year old, in serious condition due to underlying conditions. Seven patients are at Boffa Hospital and four at St Thomas Hospital.

She said that it was to be expected that with the relaxation of measures, cases would increase. However she said it was clear that certain events contributed to the current spike. “This is something that we never wanted to happen”. She said that the cases at St Venera feast created a cluster of 33 persons.

Coincidentally, the same amount, 33, form part of the so-called Paceville cluster, which includes a number of bars. 20 people form part of the “Radisson party” cluster. She said that a number of language schools contributed to a number of cases.

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A detailed infograph of active clusters was explained by Prof Gauci. She said that testing has increased significantly and it was for this reason that two swabbing centres will be increased to answer for the demand.

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She explained that while larger events have been events, smaller events, based on risk assessment, will be allowed. These will be capped at 300.

She said that more enforcement will take place, while appealing to organisers to cooperate in this regard. Prof Gauci also insisted on the importance of wearing a mask to protect each other. Questioned about whether Malta finds itself in a situation of a public health emergency, Gauci said that currently the authorities are making use of all available tools but if necessary “all decisions may be taken”.

Updated 1242 – Reports of murder in Ghaxaq

Netnews.com.mt reports that following a heated argument in Ghaxaq, involving several people, a 70-year old has shot dead a 40-year old believed to be his son.

Updated 1233 – 49 new cases of coronavirus

The Health Department announced that there were 49 new cases of coronavirus recorded in the past 24 hours, meaning there are now 311 active cases. Malta is on the verge of exceeding 1,000 total cases.

1,717 swab tests were taken yesterday.

The Times of Malta estimated that Malta’s R factor – the rate of spread of coronavirus – is over 2.

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Updated 1230 – Bernard Grech announces candidature

Dr Bernard Grech has announced in a lengthy Facebook post his intention to contest the upcoming leadership race within the Nationalist Party.

Updated 1136 – Fearne calls for social distancing, contact tracing and protection of vulnerable persons

Chris Fearne is now addressing the briefing.

He insisted that to ensure safety, three essential elements need to be observed. These are social distancing, the isolation of infected patients and related contact tracing, and thirdly the protection of the most vulnerable persons.

He recalled that no more one person every four square metres in every establishment. Fines of 3,000 euro will apply if such law is not observed.

Following the MCESD meeting, additional measures were introduced.

While the same limit of 10 persons in one group will apply, Government announced the ban of events exceeding 100 persons insides and 300 outside.

All dance floors will be closed. Visits to elderly homes will be restricted to one persons at a time, behind a glass screen.

The use of the mask will be mandatory in a number of places, including shops, public transport, Gozo ship terminal, airport and others. Fines of 50 euro apply for lack of observance of such requirements.

Updated 1121 – PM, Chris Fearne addressing press conference: PM Abela says all social partners, except for doctors, agreed to new measures proposed by Health Superintendence

The PM said that the long MCESD meeting was a very productive one with all unions, except the MAM agreeing to all measures being brought forward by the Health Superintendent Prof Charmaine Gauci.

MAM agreed with most of the proposals brought forward by Gauci except for the decision related to weddings and mass events.

Abela said that the health of the Maltese population was top priority, but a balance between health and economy was crucial. In this context, industrial peace was crucial.

The PM admitted that “statistically” the number of cases had increased, but insisted that the number of “serious cases” remained consistently low. He added that the absolute majority of patients had very mild or no symptoms at all.  As a result, the facilities prepared for Covid, with the exception of testing, were not being used. The protection of people’s health remain at the same levels as they were two or three months ago, thereby there was no compromise between health and the economy – the balance has been achieved. “We have protected both lives and livelihoods”.

Abela said  that through the re-opening of the economy, 450 people found employment last month, pushing this figure to below 4,000. “Every strategy we have undertaken is sustainable”.

The Prime Minister added that the country is facing a marathon, not a sprint, and the public and the authorities need to learn to live with the virus.

He said that the four cancelled events would have left 25 million euro in the country’s economy, which could have been invested in the healthcare sector.

Updated 0959 – Nurses suspend industrial action

The MUMN, the nurses’ union, have suspended their industrial action planned as from today. This was announced on social media by Health Minister Chris Fearne.

Updated 0955 – Worst week since start of the pandemic – MAPHM

In a strongly worded statement, the Malta Association of Public Health Medicine said that Malta has reached the  worst week since the beginning of the pandemic in terms of the number of new cases of COVID-19 detected. This is the highest incidence of cases since the beginning of April, surpassing previous numbers, with many of the cases linked to mass events, parties or socializing in crowded areas.

It argued that three weeks after lifting most measures and – almost  uniquely in the EU – allowing mass events to go ahead as if the battle against COVID-19 had been won, we are right back where we started. Except that in some ways, we are now in a worse position than we were last April, it added.

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While acknowledging that he number of hospitalized cases is still low, many healthcare workers, including public health professionals, are burnt out and demoralized. All additional staff deployed in the initial surge have now returned to regular work to reinforce the semblance of ‘normality’. After weeks of cost-cutting exercises and staff depletions, testing centres are overwhelmed with requests. Despite the tremendous efforts of dozens of volunteers who deserve the nation’s respect and gratitude, effective contact tracing in an environment where each case now has tens or scores of contacts remains extremely difficult if not impossible.

In this context, it said that all large events should be cancelled. Nightclubs, bars, discos and party venues should be closed until the outbreak is brought back under control. Social gatherings should be limited, and physical distancing maintained throughout. A limit of 300 people is simply too high-risk. English Language schools should be closed – unfortunately these have been identified as sources of sustained transmission in the community since students routinely visit entertainment venues without maintaining physical distancing.

Updated 0811 – Newspaper Review

The Times reveals that the PN MPs opposed to Adrian Delia’s leadership have agreed to support Bernard Grech as a ‘unity candidate’ to challenge Adrian Delia in the forthcoming party leadership race.

The Independent said that potential PN leader candidates Therese Comodini Cachia, Roberta Metsola, Mark Anthony Sammut, and Bernard Grech held a series of talks this week to agree on a sole contestant in the leadership vote.

L-Orizzont says that MEP Roberta Metsola and MP Therese Comodini Cachia ruled themselves out of the PN leadership contest. Meanwhile, Adrian Delia has formally submitted his re-election application.

In-Nazzjon reports that the coronavirus count increased by 20 cases on Thursday, and there are now 267 registered active cases. Four of the infected patients announced yesterday by the Ministry of Health were children.

The Times quotes Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà who said that investigations into the Pilatus Bank are drawing to a close and expects the case to be concluded by the end of this month. Gafà said the police will proceed wil court arraignments.

L-Orizzont follows the compilation of evidence in the case about the Mqabba shooting last week which left one person dead and another injured. The surviving victim wrote the names of Leon Debono and Owen Schembri on a sheet of paper provided by the police.

The Independent says that the Archdiocese reported a surplus of €3.5 million in 2019, which includes a one-time €2.4 donation in shares to Caritas Malta and Dar Tal-Providenza. Estimates for this year, however, are that the church will register a deficit of €8 million.

In-Nazzjon quotes PN Leader Adrian Delia who criticised the government for ‘abdicating’ from its responsibility to protect the people from the viral spread. Delia said that a healthy economy needs a healthy population.

Updated 0653 – No Agreement at MCESD

The doctors’ association confirmed that directives will continue today, insisting that the holding of mass events was illogical and absurd.

A marathon eight-hour meeting between social partners failed to lead to an agreement between the sides. Government acknowledged that mass events were problematic and agreed to issue stiffer regulations, more strict enforcement with the introduction of fines. Masks indoors would be made obligatory and police would be enforcing wearing of masks indoors. Government officials including civil servants would start wearing masks in public media events.

Half way through the meeting, news reached the Auberge De Castille that numbers of Covid 19 had increased by 150% in one day reaching a new record level of local cases. Furthermore US Centre of Disease Control,, advised American citizens not to travel to Malta because of the high risk of Covid, raising the prospect that Malta would be blacklisted by more EU countries.

Dr. Balzan on behalf of MAM, who was in phone contact with other MAM officials was adamant that it was the duty of government to control the epidemic and ban all mass events until the Covid numbers did not exceed three cases per day, particularly when the cause was daily parties and events held all over the island.

The government proposal to allow mass/public events of up to 300 people was deemed absurd and dangerous by Dr. Balzan. Another proposal to limit the number to 60 indoors and 100 outdoors was also not accepted.

MAM did not change its original position as the health and safety of its members, and the protection of the health of the Maltese people was more important that short term profits from events which are a very small percentage of the Maltese Economy.

Updated 0651 – Pilatus Bank arraignments expected

The Times of Malta reveals this morning that the police are in the process of concluding their investigations into Pilatus Bank and are expected to proceed with court arraignments.

Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà said on Thursday that the force was close to solving an important case. Although making no reference to which case this referred to, the Times said that the Commissioner was referring to the Pilatus Bank case.

Morning Briefing

US warns against travel to Malta

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States has strongly recommened travellers to avoid all non-essential international travel to Malta.

The CDC, which is the national health institute of the country, said that  COVID-19 risk in Malta is high, and that if one gets sick and needs medical care, resources may be limited. Furthermore, should one test positive while abroad, one may be isolated or not be permitted to return to the U.S. until fully recovered. Exposure to a person with COVID-19 will result in the same measures for two weeks after the last exposure.

While a similar de-listing was expected by the UK, the Tourism Ministry said yesterday that Malta is still on its safe travel list.

Coronavirus in Malta: Health vs economy

The health vs economy debate continued throughout Thursday, reaching its apex during an MCESD meeting where social partners and Government exchanged their views on the current situation related to the resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic in Malta. Most unions insisted that further restrictions were required, with doctors threatening to continue their strike action against holding of massive events.

Prime Minister Robert Abela pushed for what he described as an equitable, sustainable agreement which considered both the economy and the healthcare. PM Abela acknowledged Malta was experiencing a resurgence in cases, but the number of people with serious symptoms requiring hospitalisation remained low. He also referred to rules and fines for event organisers caught breaching social distancing.

Meanwhile, the doctors’ union noted how its 900 members were overwhelmingly following its strike directive.  Industrial actions by nurses come into force today.

“We have to reach a compromise that does not break down the health sector or the economic sector”, insisted the Prime Minister.

It is expected the Health Superintendent Prof Charmaine Gauci will recommence her updates, which had become a household appointment for many Maltese, as of today, 1230pm. Yesterday, the Health Department announced 20 new cases of Covid-19 in Malta, meaning that the number of active cases are now 267. Four children were part of this new group. Late evening, Church portal Newsbook.com.mt reported that a number of cases were identified at the Cardiac ward at Mater Dei Hospital.

PN: Bernard Grech favourite to face Delia

Both Roberta Metsola and Therese Comodini Cachia have declared yesterday that they will not throw their name in the hat for the leadership race within the Nationalist Party. This should pave the way to ensure that Dr Bernard Grech is the so-called “rebels group” unity candidate, to face incumbent leader Dr Adrian Delia.

Candidates have until Monday to come forward, and will first face a screening process before an election, expected next month.

Meanwhile, Dr Delia said that he formally submitted his candidacy yesterday: “I will go for this election with great determination and courage,” he said on Facebook.

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