The article has been updated following the cancellation of an event due to a surge in reported coronavirus cases.
While much of the public is angry that mass events continue to be held in Malta, despite the risk of the spread of coronavirus, those individuals under scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee continue to profit from large events planned for this summer, regardless of public health concerns.
Hotel Takeover, a recently held weekend pool party, has turned into a nationwide wakeup call. Following a number of days without reporting any new COVID-19 cases, health authorities issued a worrying statement confirming that at least six new cases were diagnosed among those attending the pool party. This was the highest number of infections in July.
The pool party left many people angry because of the lack of proper guidelines for those hosting these events, with many arguing on social media that mass events should be banned to avoid a surge in COVID-19 cases in Malta. Members of the public were already concerned about the influx of tourists from countries where the number of infected people was significant.
Judging by the list of upcoming events scheduled for this summer, people questioned decisions being taken by the authorities.
The Head of the Malta Medical Association, Martin Balzan, warned that “Malta is playing with fire” by allowing such large events. Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli, replied: “Surely we know what we are doing”.
Only hours later, the reported cases of COVID-19 cases nationwide doubled.
Among the planned events are large parties sponsored by the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA). As revealed by the Public Accounts Committee, those responsible for promoting the events were a close knit group of people, including donors to the Labour Party.
The same individuals are behind the mass events being organised this summer. (The organisers of the Hotel Take Over party are not among those being scrutinised by the PAC.)
Summer Daze, an event which takes place during the peak of the tourism season in Malta, is still scheduled to be held. The Shift had earlier reported that this event had taken in €1.1 million in government sponsorships in 2018. The Shift is informed the same organisers received further generous funding the following year.
The MTA’s Head of Events, Lionel Gerada, a political canvasser of former disgraced Minister Konrad Mizzi, was dispersing the money.
The close group of friends, who benefited from large sums of public funds, include Gerald Debono (known as Gerry), Trevor Camilleri, Nicholas Spiteri and Edward Zammit Tabona of the Fortina Group.
Another event being organised by a number of individuals currently under scrutiny for the sponsorships they received is BPM. The event is aimed at attracting British revellers – they claim it is set to bring some 20,000 British tourists to the Maltese islands despite the UK’s track record in dealing with the pandemic being a concern.
Besides the obvious danger this entails at a time when Europe is still struggling to end the pandemic, the 20,000 number is, according to sources in the industry, “making people in Ibiza and Greece laugh”. These are popular destinations for partygoers and Malta seems intent on exploiting their caution due to the pandemic.
The numbers, which are supposed to justify such events, have already been questioned; especially when it was revealed that the study the MTA used to justify its spending was actually commissioned by those benefiting from taxpayer money.
An industry insider who spoke with The Shift said Malta is exploiting the European market because other tourism hotspots are not opening clubs or organising mass events.
At a time when social media is rife with public anger at the lack of consideration by those attending these events, Farrugia Portelli announced a new set of guidelines for the sponsorship committee.
The Minister did not say whether the organisers being reviewed by the PAC will be excluded, despite their dubious track record. On the contrary, the guidelines seem designed for them to continue benefiting from public funds.
The fact that authorities seem comfortable to look the other way and allow very large events has also angered other organisers of cultural events, who have not been told whether they will be allowed to conduct events this year. These events do not attract large profits but are important for their cultural value.
People gathering at mass events also contradicts guidelines having to be followed by retail outlets that cannot let customers in without masks. Some sectors face even more stringent guidelines, such as fashion outlets where sales have dropped because of rules.
The fact that people can attend an event of hundreds, even thousands, of people without a mask, but cannot enter a shop to buy groceries without one, defies logic.
The lack of clarity is of concern to vulnerable people who said they are being forced back into isolation. Anger was expressed by the parents of children battling serious illnesses who said the situation was unfair.
One mother whose son is fighting a fatal illness said every day that her child lived was a day won, but after months of isolation because of the pandemic she had to now explain to him once again why he could not visit his favourite place, or hug his relatives who are healthcare workers, because of the government’s priorities.
Many expressed appreciation for the work done by medical practitioners during the pandemic and criticised the lack of respect for their sacrifice to keep the nation safe as the country risks a new surge in infections.
After 14 new coronavirus cases were reported on Sunday, announced following the publication of this article, the organisers of Summer Daze have announced that the event has been postponed to 2021.
There is as yet no indication of whether other event organisers, including four weekend-long parties hosting thousands of people, will do the same.