Watch: Winter likely to make pandemic worse, Fearne warns

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The pandemic’s effect is likely to get worse as the weather turns cold in Europe and in Malta, Health Minister Chris Fearne warned, though he nevertheless insisted that the situation was still under control.

Speaking on Saturday’s edition of Andrew Azzopardi on 103, Fearne pointed out that Covid-19 numbers were on the rise across the world, particularly in Europe.

“And I will be clear; so far this season has been kind to us,” Fearne said, highlighting that the weather was still warm enough for t-shirts. Europe similarly faced relatively mild weather, he added.

“When the weather turns cold, the situation in Europe will get worse,” Fearne warned.

“This does not mean that we are not keeping the situation under control,” he clarified, recalling a metaphor he has frequently used during the pandemic: the need to avoid a “tsunami” of cases in favour of a manageable stream.

Azzopardi recalled that healthcare specialists were describing the situation as being on the brink, but Fearne, who recalled that Malta has considerably built its capacity to deal with the pandemic over the course of this year, noted that people in need of treatment were not being denied it due to capacity issues.

The presenter pressed further on the issue, highlighting the number of deaths being reported, but while the minister acknowledged that every death was a tragedy, he highlighted that Malta’s mortality rate was lower than that of many of its European peers. Covid-19 remained a deadly disease, but Malta has been able to deal with every single case, he maintained.

But the minister highlighted that the limiting factor was human resources, and warned that it was possible for these to be overwhelmed. He thus appealed to everyone to act responsibly.

“All that we do determines how we will emerge from the pandemic,” Fearne said. “The government alone will not succeed in overcoming it.”

MAM, MUMN insist lockdown is required

While the government is resisting calls for stronger restrictions, however, the Medical Association of Malta and the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses have both insisted that such measures should be introduced before it is too late.

MAM president Martin Balzan said that with the number of Covid-19 cases being what it was, the breaking point could not be too far off.

“What we cannot do is act as though it is all business as usual,” Balzan explained, highlighting how a curfew and a lockdown could help bring numbers down quickly to far more manageable levels. He warned that if the situation ended up out of control, the economy would nevertheless be crushed along with the healthcare system.

MUMN president Paul Pace said that he was concerned about the way the possibility of a lockdown was being discussed, as though it was a matter of public opinion. He insisted that the basis for such arguments should be scientific.

“Whatever argument you may wish to make about the economy, about bars… when hospitals are full-up, you will have no other option left,” Pace warned.

As Fearne had done, he recalled that the coming winter may yet make the situation worse.

Experts have been warning government for a long time – Claudio Grech

When asked, Fearne had denied that the government’s messaging had been inconsistent, with himself and the health authorities preaching caution while Prime Minister Robert Abela pressed for a return to normality. He said that it was only natural for measures to be loosened earlier in the year when the number of Covid-19 cases had been brought down to a trickle.

But later in the programme, the Nationalist Party’s economy spokesperson, MP Claudio Grech, lamented that the economy and health were being pitted against each other, to the chagrin of health professionals.

He insisted, as the PN has done, that a state of public health emergency should be declared once more. He noted that one had been declared last April with around 170 active cases, and ended in June. The number of active cases is now just shy of 2,000.

Grech pointed out that over the past few months, associations representing healthcare specialists have been expressing concern and warning the government of the consequences of its inaction in the face of rising numbers.

“Stop ignoring experts: the countries who have done so ended up in trouble,” Grech appealed. He emphasised that failing to follow the advice of experts would not only impact public health, but would also lengthen the time needed for economic recovery.