Nationalist MPs questioned the basis for the government’s decision to ease restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic in Parliament today, expressing concern that people were losing faith in the authorities’ recommendations.
Parliament was debating a minor amendment to the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure to ensure that employees can still receive their salaries if their employers are faced with a garnishee order. The issue was raised by PN MP Kevin Cutajar in relation to the Covid-19-related financial aid packages. The bill itself was thus uncontroversial, prompting PN MPs to question the way the government was dealing with the pandemic itself.
Past overreaction or present complacence?
David Thake noted that unlike Italy – where the number of Covid-19 cases followed a curve which has peaked – figures in Malta have been particularly erratic.
He said that when restrictions were introduced two months ago, the public was given the impression that the number of cases being reported was a key factor. But the number of daily cases now – when the government is easing restrictions – was roughly the same as it was back then.
“So the question is, are we being too complacent today, or did we over-react two months ago,” Thake asked.
The MP noted that the public’s fear could be overcome by trust: if people trusted that decisions were taken in everyone’s interest.
He said that Health Minister Chris Fearne and Superintendent for Public Health Charmaine Gauci had enjoyed the public trust, but this was now waning, suggesting that this was because people feared that decisions were now being taken in the interest of specific factions.
Claudette Buttigieg similarly argued that people’s peace of mind was at stake, lambasting Prime Minister Robert Abela’s speech last Sunday, in which he encouraged people to hit the beach – with many following suit.
“No one has given any assurances that the Prime Minister’s comments were based on any scientific evidence,” she said, arguing that public confusion over the authorities’ recommendation had increased.
The MP also noted that the government’s recommendations appeared to be inconsistent. She highlighted that while clothes shops could open, changing rooms cannot be used, even though such shops would have steamers which they already use to disinfect the clothes people try on. But while the restriction on changing rooms remained, people could now eat out at restaurants.
Both Buttigieg and Thake emphasised that any decision taken would be difficult, as it was far from easy to keep shops closed in the interest of public health.
But they both argued that businesses needed clarity, while the public needed assurances that the government’s recommendations were sound.
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