‘There can be no winners if there is a surge in COVID-19 cases’

The President of the Medical Association of Malta, Martin Balzan, has called upon the government to immediately stop all mass gatherings.

The call has been followed by warnings from 10 other medical organisations, as well as the Malta Employers Association and the Malta College of Pathologists, which called for banning mass events.

The Malta Employers Association said, “there can be no winners if there is a surge in cases brought about by mass events”.

Citizens, as well as workers in the tourism industry, have expressed their concern about a situation which might turn dangerous after the number of COVID-19 cases increased following a weekend pool party that has led to calls for a ban on mass events.

In a statement, the Medical Association said it fears Malta has not seen an end to the spread of the virus. Balzan had warned that, by allowing mass events, Malta was playing with fire. His warning was followed by a surge in new coronavirus cases over the weekend.

Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli had played down the medical professional’s warning. “Surely, we know what we’re doing,” she had replied. This was only hours before an increase in COVID-19 cases which has stirred a national debate.

Julian Zarb, a local tourism planning consultant and researcher, currently chairing the Malta Tourism Society, also said that a few weeks ago he had advised caution on opening up tourism. “I got a one-liner back from someone at the Ministry for Tourism: ‘The rest of the world thinks differently’”.

The increase in new COVID-19 cases in Malta led to the posting of an online petition appealing to authorities to end all mass events. More than 9,000 people have already signed the petition.

Following the surge in cases and revelations by The Shift that those benefitting from public funds by the Malta Tourism Authority were the same people being scrutinised by the Public Accounts Committee, the organisers of Summer Daze, who had received over €1 million to organise the event, announced it was postponed.

In a bizarre move, the organisers of Summer Daze said on social media on Monday that the event had been cancelled back in March. This was not the case, The Shift can confirm. The announcement was in fact made on Sunday. There was nothing on the organisers’ Facebook or Instagram pages to indicate the event had been postponed in March.

Dozens of village feasts have now been postponed or cancelled, while other smaller parties, such as Class, which was to be held this coming weekend in Xemxija, will also not take place.

There are at least five major events still scheduled for this summer. One of these events is BPM, which aims to attract 20,000 British tourists to the Maltese islands, despite concerns about the UK’s handling of the pandemic.

The Chamber of Commerce said in a statement it did not oppose mass events but appealed for them to be organised in “a responsible fashion”. Organisers must be able to manage crowds, “taking into consideration all safeguards and mitigation measures of social distancing and hygiene”.

The Prime Minister has played down public concern saying that Malta will remain “open for business”.

As of Monday, there were 27 active cases of COVID-19 in Malta. Yet The Shift is informed there are delays in appointments for people asking for swab tests. A reader who called The Shift said a swab test requested last Friday could only be held on Thursday, almost a week later.


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