‘You cannot bluff with virus and disease’, doctors tell Prime Minister

Medical Association of Malta president Martin Balzan expressed serious concerns over the highly positive, almost surreal, approach taken by Prime Minister Robert Abela when announcing the lifting of prevention measures against COVID-19.

In comments to The Shift, Balzan said the association was not consulted over the decision to further relax measures that were introduced to prevent the spread of the pandemic. This contrasts with the prime minister stating several times in a press conference that the decision had been based on scientific evidence and widespread consultation.

During a long drawn out speech on Monday, Abela said the government’s decision to allow restaurants, hairdressers and salons, among others, to open, was based on science and extensive research done on coronavirus.

Balzan, however, is not too convinced. “I am not aware of any studies mentioned by the Prime Minister. This is a new pandemic – we are learning as we go along. What studies is he referring to exactly?”

The MAM president said he was not consulted on the relaxing of preventative measures or on the additional services that Mater Dei Hospital would now offer. The impact these changes will have on the health and safety of health professionals was not discussed either.

Balzan said the government should instead address the issue of shortage of doctors in local health centres. “We have a situation where one doctor has to deal with a long queue of people coming in with different symptoms”.

Health Minister Chris Fearne never met with the association to discuss this particular issue.

MAM has issued a statement saying it will be asking for an urgent meeting with the health management. “While we appreciate the importance of a gradual launch of the economy, we cannot underestimate the serious medical risks that will come with such measures”.

“The virus is still with us. You cannot bluff with disease and a pandemic,” Balzan said, adding that the virus could easily disprove what the Prime Minister said.

“We agree to have restrictions relaxed. But what the Prime Minister announced yesterday has to be mitigated with the honest truth.”

Balzan said the measures should come into force when accompanied by clear information, disciplined behaviour from the public and through strict enforcement.

In the press conference, Abela said that, instead of it being about enforcement, the public would abide by the introduced measures because they had enough self-discipline.

Balzan disagreed, saying that it was normal for these measures to come hand in hand with strict measures to control the measures.

“It is important to note that the Prime Minister always referred to guidelines, not laws. So what enforcement are we supposed to expect without a legal notice to back it up? If the government wants to be believable, then issue the required legal notices”.

The fact that the Prime Minister acted as if it was business as usual, was troubling.

“We have a lot of asymptomatic carriers. This virus is still around. It’s true we have to move the economy but do it with discipline”.

He also criticised Abela’s decision to leave it up to the vulnerable to decide whether they should go out or not.

“The risk for elderly people is simply too high. You cannot say these things when the mortality rate is just too dangerous. This is the difference between a medical doctor and a politician – we state the honest and simple truth, however unpleasant it may be. We can get back to normality only when there is a vaccine”.

The daily reported cases of people infected with the virus have been hitting two-digits almost every day for the last week. Active cases now stand at 103.

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