MUMN, MHRA, Chamber of Commerce welcome relaxation of measures

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The MUMN, MHRA and the Chamber of Commerce have all told The Malta Independent that the relaxation measures announced by the government on Monday evening were an agreeable step.

On Monday, the government announced that restaurants, hairdressers, and beauticians, amongst others, will be allowed to re-open subject to a number of conditions relating to social distancing measures necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

MUMN President Paul Pace told this newsroom that while the manner in which the news was announced was worrying, noting that it was “crazy” to make it seem like social distancing measures would be merely guidelines, the fact that these measures will in truth be enforceable by a legal notice is a positive step.

MHRA President Tony Zahra also welcomed the announcement, noting that the MHRA had targeted an end-of-May re-opening for restaurants. The fact that restaurants will be re-opened earlier than that – next Friday, to be precise – is a very positive step, Zahra said.

He said that while some minor adjustments may be made, they agree with the general terms under which the restaurants will re-open for business.

Chamber of Commerce President David Xuereb meanwhile welcomed the move to relax restrictions, noting that they had been asking for such a move  based on maintaining a balance between the economy, physical health, and mental health.

Asked whether he felt that, from an economic perspective, the measures sufficed or left more to be desired, Xuereb noted that it is difficult to say whether they were enough or not and that a balance between  the three aforementioned pillars needed to be sought.

He said that as a Chamber they are not being bullish about their predictions or statements, noting that – in spite of asking the Government – they do not have access to data or modelling which shows the effects of the relaxation of certain measures.

He noted that, given the low numbers over the past week, the country is certainly in a position where it could cope with having outlets re-open, but emphasized on the need for discipline on the part of both employers and the general public in order to continue to manage the situation.

“The better we are at realizing that Covid-19 is with us all the time, in managing business operations, and in being disciplined, the further we can go and the more aggressive we can be in opening further”, Xuereb said.

Both Pace and Zahra meanwhile spoke to this newsroom about the possibility of Malta’s airport re-opening soon and the potential of having some form of tourism in the summer – views which ultimately clash with each other.

‘We have to return to normality; we cannot let project fear take us over’ – MHRA President

Zahra said that after the opening of restaurants, the opening of the airport should be the next step, adding that the MHRA had penned the 15th of June as a target for this to happen.

He said that while Monday’s measures will bring a degree of domestic tourism into consideration, the effect of this will be negligible in Malta and only major in Gozo.  He noted that this means that if the airport is not re-opened then there will be serious problems for the industry. 

Zahra said that this has to be discussed and done with intelligence, mooting the proposal for ‘safe corridors’ between countries which have handled the virus outbreak well as one possible avenue to follow.

“We have to return to normality; we cannot let project fear take us over”, Zahra said.  This reflects a statement

When pointed out that it was associations representing healthcare professionals such as the MUMN and Medical Association of Malta (MAM) which were speaking out against the re-opening of the airport, and asked whether their concerns were justified, Zahra said that the fact prove that they are not justified.

“We have had 500 or so cases of Covid-19; out of those, 450 didn’t even need hospitalization – only 50 that needed some form of hospitalization out of which practically none were at ITU. Yes, we implemented a lockdown which had an effect; but the numbers do not indicate anything about what they are saying; where are the hundreds dead and the thousands in hospital that we were told about?”, he said.

“We never found a solution for HIV – so what should we do? Tell someone to stay at the airport to tell tourists with HIV not to come into the country?  We need to live with it”, Zahra said.

He said that the measures currently in place are costing the country €11 million every day – equivalent to €330 million every month. “We cannot go on like this”, he said.

“If we aren’t going to open the airport, we are telling hoteliers that they have to open in March 2021. Are you willing to tell 20,000 employees in the industry that they are going to lose their job?”, he said.

“We are talking about livelihoods – not wealth…not wealth against health – about livelihoods.  Will you tell these people that we don’t have a job for them on the basis that there may possibly be another wave?”, he added.

“Once you open the airport – you don’t live with it, you die with it” – MUMN President

MUMN President Pace meanwhile stuck to the statement which the union issued over the weekend, where it stated that the tourism industry should remain shut.

Speaking with this newsroom, Pace first noted that the union was “hurt” by the Prime Minister’s statement on Sunday, where he seemed to dismiss the possibility of a second wave by saying that waves were only in the sea.

“He is the only Prime Minister in Europe joking about the second wave.  It is highly inappropriate, which shows that he isn’t taking it seriously”, he said.

“287 of my colleagues are in quarantine, and 10 have tested positive for the virus.  We are making a lot of sacrifices, so hearing the Prime Minister joke about a second wave was shocking for us”, he added.

Moving on to the airport, Pace said that the phrase of having to “live with” the virus has been said a lot over the past days.

“Living with it means that certain things cannot re-open; there is a red line, and one of them is tourism for this summer and another is the entertainment industry, for instance”, he said.

“Skipping that red line may not only ruin the entertainment industry, for instance, but it will ruin every other industry as well. Living with it means making sacrifices”, he said.

He said that this is not a case of healthcare professionals being against the economy, but noted that health authorities can only deal with so much when it comes to tourists.

He said that one cannot quarantine tourists or carry out contact tracing after that tourist returns.  He said that these are thing which prevented a major outbreak but which cannot be used for tourists.

“Living with [Covid-19] means having to make sacrifices. Once you open the airport – you don’t live with it, you die with it”, he said.