Malta News Briefing – Sunday 17 January 2021 – UPDATE

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Update 1900 h – News HeadlinesPolitical Sunday Statement – Prime Minister Robert Abela tried to shut down all criticisms of the Labour Party’s co-option of Oliver Scicluna during a political activity this morning, instead shifting the narrative to Charles Azzopardi and the Nationalist Party’s subsequent offer to have him join the Opposition. Scicluna’s co-option by the Labour Party has been shrouded in controversy. The co-option was the result of a futile casual election, which saw MTA chairman Gavin Gulia enter parliament as an MP, only to resign a minute into his maiden parliamentary speech. MaltaToday

Scicluna, in his speech said “I’m here to serve the nation.” The incoming MP opened his speech by explaining that for him politics does not mean partisan politics or a fight between ‘red’ and ‘blue’ a reference to Labour and Nationalist Party. Scicluna pledged he will serve the nation as MP as well as letting the party and its leader know whenever he is in disagreement.

Opposition Leader Bernard Grech said on Sunday that the government is choosing to ignore the expert opinion of doctors, leaving us with a high number of Coronavirus cases and a situation that takes us far away from normality. During a political event in Mosta, Grech said that several medical experts have stated that they are ‘unprepared’, and warned that Prime Minister Robert Abela should stop telling the public that we will be returning to normality in May, as it will only give everyone false hope. Malta Independent

Newsbook publishes a photo of the restraint chair or ‘punishment chair’ which naked inmates were tied to at Corradino Correctional Facility.

The Times reports that a register of contractors launched in July 2019 is no longer available online, as much-vaunted reforms to the construction sector continue to progress at a slow pace.

MaltaToday reports that the Union of Professional Educators has expressed concern over the upcoming Carnival weekend on February 12, and the activities due to take place throughout that period, that could accelarate the spread of COVID-19 cases.

Update 1230 h – Malta reported 141 new Coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours. During the same period, Malta reported 136 recoveries. The total number of active cases has reached 2753.

Update 1100 – Staff nurse Rachel Grech became the first Maltese to take the second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday morning, having been the first Maltese to receive the first dose three weeks ago. The jab was administered at the country’s main hospital, Mater Dei Hospital, where the nurse works. 

Updated 0830 – Newspaper Review

The Sunday Times says that Vince Muscat, one of the three alleged hitmen in the Caruana Galizia plot, is prepared to seek a plea deal to reduce his prison sentence. Muscat has, until now, pleaded not guilty to the murder charges.

Malta Today says that the Cabinet has been presented with plans to roll back the emphyteutic deal with Steward Health Care for the Gozo hospital, Karin Grech, and St Luke’s, effectively returning them to the public sector.  

The Independent on Sunday says that senior management at the Gozo General Hospital has been advised to look for new jobs with the facility expected to return to state control. Reply to questions, the Health Ministry said that talks with Steward Health Care are ongoing.

Illum reports that government insiders are saying that MP Manuel Mallia is touted to be nominated Malta’s permanent representative on the Council of Europe. Mallia denied the claims and said he would not accept the role.

It-Torċa speaks with the CEO of logistics company Express Trailers, Franco Azzopardi, about the impact of Brexit on the sector. Azzopardi said there the new arrangements present a high rate of bureaucracy while the climate remains uncertain.

Il-Mument claims that Prime Minister Robert Abela is mulling the possibility of moving out MPs Manuel Mallia, Anthony Agius Decelis, and Silvio Parnis and co-opting Malcolm Paul Galea, Jo-Etienne Abela, and Josianne Cutajar instead.

Kullħadd says that female participation in the economy grew significantly since 2013 with a rise in women in employment and tertiary education, and a decrease in risk of social exclusion. The paper says that the remaining hurdle is greater parliamentary representation.

The Independent on Sunday reveals that the two architects facing charges for the collapse of a complex in Santa Venera which killed 54-year-old Miriam Pace last year, have not had their warrants revoked.

The Sunday Times reports research results showing that use of substances among university students rose during the pandemic. Four in ten smokers reported an increase in the habit while 47 percent of cannabis users said they also increase consumption.

Malta Today reports that a man serving a sentence in a Dutch prison is claiming that he has secret recordings of Melvin Theuma at Portomaso opening up with him about his fears that Yorgen Fenech and Keith Schembri would go after him.

Illum publishes figures showing that 14 percent of people registered a negative perception of the traffic situation in Malta in a survey conducted this month. This was the first time in two years that negative perceptions were lower than positive perceptions, at 21 percent.

It-Torċa says that the number of couples and individuals who applied for fostering rose by 49 in 2020 with over 200 vulnerable children welcomed into private homes. In the last six months alone, authorities presented 66 cases for permanence.

Il-Mument quotes PN Leader Bernard Grech who says that the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme needs to be sped up. Grech criticises the government and accuses the Prime Minister of not being honest enough.

Morning Briefing

Covid-19 Update

Malta registered 175 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, authorities said. The new cases were detected following 3,293 swab tests. With 67 patients recovering 2,749 cases remain active. Two more patients have died, with Malta now having 238 fatalities.

Malta is vaccinating people against COVID-19 at a faster rate than most of its European Union peers, according to data collected by a global statistics website and quoted by The Times of Malta. With almost 9,500 jabs given by Friday, only Denmark has a higher rate of administration.
The data, which was last updated on Friday, states that 2.15 per cent of locals have received a vaccine dose, compared to 2.54 per cent of Danish residents.

Slovenia, Italy and Spain follow behind with 1.69 per cent, 1.62 per cent and 1.45 per cent respectively.

ADPD against gender plans for Parliament

ADPD has criticised plans to increase the number of women MPs describing the move as “degrading and discriminatory”. The Party suggested that this proposal should be replaced with a system of gender-balanced lists of candidates, ADPD said on Saturday.

The party, which brought together AD and PD, said that while addressing gender imbalance within parliament was long overdue, the system being debated by lawmakers was inadequate.

The move was also criticised by former PN MP Franco Debono, who said that such move will mean that Malta will have one of the largest Parliaments per capita around the globe.

Steering group for the co-ordination of post-Covid-19 strategy set up

Government has set up a steering group for the co-ordination of the development of a national post-COVID Strategy.

In a statement, the Ministry for Research, Innovation and the Co-ordination of the Post-COVID-19 Strategy, headed by Owen Bonnici, said that The steering group will be chaired by Professor Simone Borg.
The group will also have the following members; Ms Joyce Dimech, Mr Mario Galea, Mr Godwin Mifsud, Mr James Pearsall, Prof Gordon Sammut, Mr Clive Tonna, and Mr Paul Zahra.

The Ministry said that as the pandemic unfolded, the government has acted swiftly and decisively to protect the health of its citizens and safeguard the Maltese economy. It is crucially important to co-ordinate and implement an ambitious and robust post-pandemic strategy that enables us to keep moving forward in a changing world.

“This change offers the potential for our country to emerge better and stronger than ever before by being innovative and changing threats into opportunities”, it added,

PM open for for legalisation of recreational cannabis

Prime Minister Robert Abela has declared he is open to discussion about other reforms which are necessary, among which the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use and the discrimination of prostitution, whilst making it clear Malta would not become a country of brothels.

Interviewed during the Insights programme on TVM yesterday by Glen Falzon, Dr Abela stated that the subject of euthanasia should not be swept under the carpet, adding he saw nothing wrong in having a national discussion on abortion.

PN proposes quarantine leave for police officers

Police officers forced into quarantine due to COVID-19 should be granted quarantine leave rather than be required to use up their sick leave, the PN said. MP Beppe Fenech Adami said that the government was treating police officers like “second-class frontliners” by refusing to grant them a quarantine leave allowance.

“The government is refusing to treat the police with dignity and respect,” Fenech Adami concluded.

In a statement Labour accused the PN of opportunism recalling the overtime saga which, it said, saw policemen denied from legitimately being paid for a significant number of hours.

CDE News

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