OPM silent on guarantees as doctors stress importance of enforcement

As the Doctor’s Association stresses the need for nationwide discipline and enforcement of the new measures to deal with COVID-19 introduced by the government on Monday, the Office of the Prime Minister has not replied to questions as to whether the government will guarantee that people who are issued fines will not be granted amnesty again.

“The real crux of the matter is discipline, and politicians should lead by example and make sure that they don’t give mixed messages,” Medical Association of Malta (MAM) President Martin Balzan told The Shift.

“Experience has shown that in the period between March and May, people were disciplined and the numbers were under control. Enforcement and discipline are essential,” Balzan stressed.

The MAM has suspended strike action after the new measures were announced. Balzan told The Shift the new measures are not too different from what the association had proposed.

“We understand the tragic effect that a lockdown has on the economy of a country, but it will be the next step should the public not adhere to restrictive measures,” he added.

The government had introduced social distancing measures for March and April and enforced them with the threat of fines. But Prime Minister Robert Abela, in an appearance on Labour Party TV, had then announced his intention to consider an amnesty. He had justified it by saying he believed that most breaches were not intentional.

His proposal was met with criticism, primarily from healthcare workers on the frontline who accused Abela of populism.

As in the past, following a public backlash, Abela had to take a step back and explain that there were mechanisms available to the public to contest fines.

Abela had defended his decision, saying that this was an issue of showing compassion towards genuine cases, before blaming the media for the outcry.

The Shift sent questions to the Office of the Prime Minister asking whether Abela would again consider issuing an amnesty for those ignoring new restrictive measures introduced after a spike in cases. No reply was received at the time of writing.

Earlier fines ranged from €100 for groups exceeding the maximum number of people allowed in public, to €10,000 for infected persons breaching quarantine. The restrictive measures were relaxed once the number of coronavirus infections was brought under control.

Now that the cases have increased to record numbers, the government was left with little choice but to introduce new restrictions, including fines of between €50 and €100 for not wearing masks in public.

The Prime Minister has reiterated that the Maltese people are disciplined and able to abide by the emergency rules. But Malta’s relaxed approach to the virus in the summer has led to numbers spiralling out of control. Malta is now in third place among European countries in terms of the number of infected people per capita.

Other countries have been blaming Malta for increases in COVID-19 cases resulting from citizens returning to the country after a holiday in Malta. One mayor in Sicily said, “It doesn’t look like there’s much control in Malta”.

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