Most Covid-19 restrictive measures to be removed on Friday; ‘we have won the war’

Prime Minister Robert Abela addresses a press conference Auberge de Castille, Valletta

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Most of the remaining Covid-19 restrictive measures will be removed on Friday, Prime Minister Robert Abela announced on Monday.

On Sunday, Abela announced that the airport and ports will reopen in July while bars, gyms and other establishments will be allowed to open on Friday.

The remaining restrictive measures will be removed on Friday.

“On Friday we will be returning to the normal simple life we love. This is thanks to the discipline shown by the public and to the hard work of our frontliners,” Abela said.

The infection spike did not materialise, and numbers kept going down, he said.

“On Monday 8 June, the government will be presenting a multi-million budget, which is required to stimulate the economy and thank Maltese businesses, which showed great resilience over the past few weeks,” the PM said. 

On 1 July, Malta will also be reopening its airport, with simple protocols that do not discourage people from travelling.

Measures are being removed with clear protocols to keep people safe, Abela continued.

Social distancing will remain, he said. Hygiene also has to be respected and masks have to be worn in the indicated places. 

We must remain responsible. We asked people to be disciplined and they followed our guidelines, he said. Some minor restrictions will remain in place but we are returning to normality, he said.

People must now return to work. These include those who had received a letter advising them to stay at home.

We have won this was – Chris Fearne 

Deputy PM Chris Fearne said health remains the priority. He said that, in January, the health authorities started preparing for the eventual arrival of the Coronavirus in Malta. New procedures were set up and medical staffs were trained.

The past three months can be seen as a test that showed that the country is fully prepared for any future pandemics. “We have won this was,” Fearne said, “and now we must win peace.”

The r-factor today is 0.5, he continued, and this low rate is being sustained. Hospital waiting lists that increased as a result of Covid-19 will now be tackled, he said.

He emphasised that social distancing has to remain. Fearne also thanked the Maltese public, particularly front liners and others who performed important duties during the pandemic.

Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci said we started off in a situation where other countries were experiencing deaths. “We did not want to go through the same situation, and we introduced strategies based on evidence to do our utmost to protect you.”

“We focused on a strategy of finding and isolating cases. Quarantine was important to keep the virus from spreading like it did in other countries.”

Now that measures are being relaxed, the health authorities will keep giving guidance to the public and will further increase testing, “because we want to find every case of Coronavirus there is out there.”

Measures are being relaxed with caution so that people feel safe, she continued.

Childcare centres can be opened, but with a difference. Certain previously banned events will be allowed, but we are not yet at a point where mass events can take place.

Fielding questions, Abela said the plan is for schools to reopen in September.

There are 19 countries the Maltese will be allowed to travel to. Incoming passengers will not be swabbed, he said.

Asked if he would publish the risk assessments on which these decisions were based, and the names of the scientists advising him, Abela said two of them are Fearne and Gauci. “The best certificate that we can be given are the results we are seeing,” he said.

Asked about the amnesty for people fined for breaching social distancing rules, Abela said such a mechanism already exists. He also said the decision was based on the principle of “humanity”. Those who abused will have to pay for their actions, but others who were caught in unfortunate circumstances should not, he said. “I never said that there should be an automatic amnesty.”

Replying to another question, Chris Fearne said people will be allowed to attend mass as from the middle of June, but there will be some restrictions, like social distancing.

Gauci said the virus in Malta is under control and the transmission rate is low, but it is still the same virus. This is why we are still in a state of public health emergency. Monitoring will continue.

Asked if he would apologise to the forces of law and order who felt insulted by his amnesty discourse on Sunday, Abela said he will encourage these people to keep up their good work. “I expect the forces of order to keep working and to achieve more positive results.”

Pressed to say whether the risk assessment would be published, Abela said the document was drawn up by the Health Superintendent. He appealed to the media not to instil fear in people, adding that the government had always been transparent on its actions and decisions. “It seems, unfortunately, that there are some people who are not happy at the fact that we are returning to normality.”

Abela said passengers arriving by sea from countries other than the 19 considered to be safe will still have to quarantine for 14 days. Passengers arriving by air from these 19 countries will not need to quarantine. Vulnerable people should follow the guidelines more rigorously.

Asked whether anything will change with regard to migration, Abela said this is a very delicate situation. Due to the pandemic, Malta had to close its ports. He hoped that things will improve soon but pointed out that hundreds of thousands of migrants are waiting to leave from North Africa. A holistic solution must be found, he said, adding that a solution should be found on the Libyan coast.

Referring to the migrants being held on chartered vessels off the Maltese coast, Abela said this was an unfortunate situation but the ports remain closed for now. He said, however, that he remains hopeful that a European solution will be found.

Asked to clarify about childcare centres, Charmaine Gauci said fewer children will be allowed in. This will be done to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Children should always be kept in the same groups, she said, and they will be taught hygiene skills.

Turning to bars, she said the same concept adopted for restaurants will be used. People will have to keep a certain distance.

Asked how the authorities would ensure that no infected people come over from the ‘safe’ countries, Gauci explained that these are countries that are deemed as safe as Malta or more. The infection rate in these countries is low, and the testing rate is high. Other factors that are taken into consideration are the mortality rate in these countries.

Passengers, she said, will be asked to declare where they will be staying, and the authorities will ensure that they would have been staying in the country they are leaving from for at least 14 days prior to travelling.

The experience on airplanes will be somewhat different to what we’re used to, she said, and airlines will be taking certain precautions to ensure that passengers feel safe.

The PM said contact sports are not advisable at this stage, but the situation is fluid and there could be updates in the coming days and weeks.