Editorial | A COVID surge and the budget

This forward planning is important, especially at a time of global uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic


Malta is facing a worrying surge in COVID-19 infections that cannot be ignored. The seven-day average of new infections has been increasing and the latest surge does not appear to be linked to outbreaks in old people’s homes.

Malta is no exception to the rest of Europe, which is experiencing a wave of infections that has forced different countries to tighten restrictions and introduce lockdowns.

With new infections hitting a record 111 cases yesterday, and Malta recording its 45th death, the country cannot continue functioning as if nothing is happening.

This leader will not advocate extreme lockdown measures but if the infection rate continues to rise unabated it will have a natural crippling effect on the economy, apart from health.

In order to avoid an economic start-and-stop situation that could be very damaging, the government has to act now.

It must opt for a cruising situation, even if this means moving forward at a slower pace. An engine chugging along but never stopping will ensure that all the cogs remain active and prepared to turn faster when things take a turn for the better.

This is why government must ensure that safety protocols remain in place and discipline emphasised.

Enforcement is necessary but lacking and this is important also from a business perspective to ensure a level playing field among operators.

It is unfair for clubs to be shut because of social distancing concerns but bars being allowed to flaunt the sit-down rules, turning into mini discos over the weekends.

It is unfair on restaurants that have incurred expenses to adhere to safety protocols to have to compete with others where these rules are ignored left, right and centre.

Enforcement must be stepped up and new restrictions such as the wearing of face masks in all public places introduced.

And for this to be successful there must be clarity in communication.

The authorities must retain the nimbleness of lifting and re-introducing measures in response to evolving circumstances and they must be open about this.

This is not an easy situation for everyone and within this context, Monday’s budget must provide a short-to-medium term cushion for businesses and families.

The budget must bolster domestic demand through targeted economic and fiscal incentives.

But it must also support families on the lower end of the income scales to avoid a social backlash.

The budget must provide a relief package for companies that remain hard-hit by the pandemic. This relief package must include continuation of the wage support scheme, substantial relief from water and electricity bills and a reduction or elimination of government-induced costs such as licence payments.

But the plan must also provide short to medium term incentives to those businesses that want and can expand operations. This includes export-oriented companies.

It is only through cash earned from abroad that the Maltese economy can hope to generate steam to keep the engine going strong.

With tourism, unlikely to recover anytime soon, focussing on other export industries is going to be crucial.

There is hope that a vaccine for COVID-19 will be available for commercial distribution by the first half of 2021 but the budget must also take a longer-term view by providing the infrastructure and incentives for new industries.

This forward planning is important, especially at a time of global uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Having a roadmap that allows space for rapid change depending on the prevalent circumstances is going to be crucial, especially if it gives businesses certainty over a span of time.

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