The Government’s efforts to bring the number of COVID-19 infection cases under control have come under heavy criticism from a business lobby group, which claims the Government does not understand how “dire” the situation is.
Abigail Mamo, CEO of the Malta Chamber of SMEs, expresses her disappointment at the current state of affairs, noting that despite repeated assurance by authorities that the road to recovery would start in March, “it has become clear that this will not be possible.”
“The SME Chamber is very concerned and is questioning the strategy that has led to the continuation of these high numbers,” she says, in comments made to BusinessNow.mt.
Although a number of Government COVID aid measures are due to expire at the end of March, Malta is seeing its longest run of high daily cases, with Friday’s figure setting a new record.
Asked, during her weekly press conference, why no new measures have been introduced despite the rising cases, Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci said that this was in fact why measures due to be lifted at the end of February have instead been kept in place.
The SME Chamber has been calling for a better plan and measures for a long time, to make sure that the Government’s plan for a restart at the end of March can go ahead, however, it says that no plan has in fact been communicated, leaving the business community and social partners “in total darkness” on what to expect out of this year.
“Sectors have been inactive for a year now,” says Ms Mamo. “We see that there is room to take action but no action is being taken that translates into tangible benefits for the economy.”
“We feel that the months of January and February offered a unique opportunity for Government intervention, which has now been lost.”
She says that, being months where business is generally slow in any case, interventions necessary to bring numbers down could have been implemented for this period, when they would have had the most minimal impact possible.
“Going on like this day after day is only prolonging the period of the start of recovery for businesses and wasting precious time,” she says.
“The more time passes the more the economic recovery is being postponed and a significant amount of sectors are in a very dire situation.”
While acknowledging that Malta is doing better than other countries when it comes to vaccinations, the benefits of which will be reaped in the long term, Ms Mamo stresses that a short term strategy is necessary to bring the numbers under control, complemented by an economic strategy to inject some much needed impetus into the economy.
With a staggering 44 per cent of businesses surveyed by the SME Chamber saying they do not think their business could not last six months (13 per cent up to 3 months and 28 per cent up to six months) if the current situation remains the same, is it time for the business community to sound the alarm on irreversible damage?
“Following our State of Business Survey,” Ms Mamo replies, “businesses owners have continued sounding out their worries with us, serious worries.”
She explains how many businesses are feeling 2021 as being worse than 2020. “And with good reason,” she says. “2021 was expected to be a much better year, and needed to be a much better year, so 2021 is falling short of expectations greatly as things stand.”
“Apart from this, businesses walked into 2021 already starved of resources and therefore 2021 will be very hard to sustain.”
She believes that the Government’s lack of immediate action shows that there is lack of understanding on how dire the situation is.
“On the health front this week health professionals have also sounded their concern with regards to the strain on hospital resources. We therefore do not see how the current strategy is benefitting anyone.”
Ms Mamo insists that social partners need to be brought in urgently to discuss any plans in the pipeline.
“The problem with this is that time is running out. The best time to increase measures is passing and we know that measures do not give us immediate results.”
“The current situation is unsustainable and something needs to be done. There are various types of interventions that could take place with some more sacrifice that will lead to faster return to normality.”
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