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2 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 23 JANUARY 2022 NEWS KURT SANSONE A day before police raided his private residence, Joseph Mus- cat notified the magistrate in- vestigating the Vitals hospitals contract of information he had received on the impending search. In a judicial application filed by his lawyers on 18 January, seen by MaltaToday, Muscat alerted Magistrate Gabriella Vella to a Facebook post Jason Azzopardi had put up two days earlier in which the Nationalist MP implied knowledge of op- erations and searches linked to the inquiry. "Afterwards – not in public – he [Jason Azzopardi] men- tioned my client's name, and said that what will happen will be used for political purpos- es. My client understands that Dr Azzopardi was referring to this inquiry," Muscat's lawyers Pawlu Lia and Charlon Gouder told the magistrate. And in what appears to be a bid to stave off the raid, the former prime minister remind- ed the magistrate that in No- vember 2021, he had offered to testify in the Vitals inquiry and provide any documentation relevant to a story that had just been published in The Times of Malta. The story published on 7 November 2021 revealed how Muscat had received €60,000 from Accutor AG, a compa- ny based in Switzerland which in turn received millions from Steward Healthcare when it took over a contract to run three state hospitals from VGH. Muscat denied wrongdoing and said the money was for work on a number of projects in various sectors and regions and none were government re- lated in Malta. The work was carried out when Muscat was no longer prime minister but was still an MP. In the court application, Muscat's lawyers said their cli- ent never heard back from the court on his request to testify and present documents. "My client is a private citizen and has no interest of playing a part in Dr Azzopardi's partisan game on the eve of a general election in which he is trying to rope in the judicial process," Muscat's lawyers said. However, the morning af- ter, police from the Financial Crimes Investigation Depart- ment turned up at 7am out- side Muscat's Burmarrad home with a search warrant. In a Facebook video published after police left his property, Muscat said he gave them a file that had long been prepared with the necessary documen- tation linked to the newspaper story. He confirmed the police searched his house and con- fiscated his mobile phone and those of his wife and twin teen- age daughters. Muscat described the raid as "theatrics" with the intention of "humiliating" him, implying that this was the work of an ob- scure hand. Magistrate Vella is holding an inquiry to determine whether there was corruption in the Vi- tals hospitals deal. The inquiry started after rule of law NGO Repubblika re- quested the criminal investi- gation in 2019, with particular focus on the part played by for- mer ministers Edward Sciclu- na, Chris Cardona and Konrad Mizzi. Muscat notified inquiring magistrate of police raid 24 hours before house search LUKE VELLA AN exit roadmap strategy, pav- ing the way for the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions will be announced next week, Health Minister Chris Fearne said. Fearne said the plan includes the dates when certain meas- ures will be removed. The measures could be expected to come into effect next February. Fearne acknowledged frus- tration with current measures exists, but remarked this was an indication that Malta had limited the impact of the vi- rus. "I would rather see people grumbling that they want to go out rather than people calling for a lockdown because peo- ple are dying. We kept things under control in the hospital and ITU in the past months," he said. "The number of COV- ID patients there has remained manageable." Following the exponential rise in cases in recent months, due to the Omicron variant, the sit- uation has been improved, with less cases being registered daily. "We know what we are do- ing and we have been showing it. And we know what we need to do with these measures. As soon as we are sure that peo- ple's health is not at risk, we will be removing them," Fearne said. He emphasised on the im- portance of vaccinations, high- lighting the Omicron variant lead to the hospitalisation of more children. In a statement, the Nationalist Party welcomed the announce- ment and said this should have been done earlier. "This con- firms the position taken by PN and most of civil society, that measures introduced by gov- ernment five days ago are ex- cessive." It remarked the measures were discriminatory and tough on employers, who it said were already facing great difficulties. PN emphasised on the impor- tance of the booster intake, and appealed for a balance of meas- ures that make sense in the cur- rent context. Four die of COVID 285 new COVID-19 cases were registered on Saturday. A man aged 89 and three women aged 79, 81 and 86 passed away while COVID-19 positive in the last 24-hours, bringing the total number of deaths to 525. Active cases stand at 6,926 af- ter 1,296 recoveries were regis- tered. There are currently 100 coro- navirus patients being cared for at Mater Dei Hospital, of which eight are in the ITU. Until Friday, 1,191,768 vac- cine doses were administered, of which 320,386 were booster doses. Fearne announces 'strategic relaxation' of COVID measures next week LUKE VELLA THE Union Ħadddiema Magħqudin has accused na- tional broadcaster PBS of bar- ring non-vaccinated personnel and visitors from entering its premises, unless they test neg- ative for COVID-19. The UĦM said the PBS prem- ises had been made out of bounds for anybody not in pos- session of a valid vaccine cer- tificate unless they were willing to pay from their own pocket for a PCR test every week. UĦM CEO Josef Vella said the policy was illegal and went beyond the provisions of the legal notice regulating vaccina- tion. "This policy does not reflect whatsoever the replies given last week within the Employ- ment Relations Board whereby trade unions and employers were invited to submit their queries to the Superintendent for Public Health, the Occu- pational Health and Safety Au- thority and the Data Protection Commissioner [...] "Apart from fuelling confu- sion, the PBS's policy is of con- cern as it goes beyond the legal notice and impinges on work- ers' rights," Vella said. Vella said employees would have to bear the costs of a rapid test and that anybody without a booster jab, was being barred entry from the PBS premises unless they are willing to do a swab test every week. PBS said it was within its right to protect employees and avoid disruption of broadcasts. It said that it was obliged to provide a safe working environment for all its workers, whilst striking a balance between the rights of those workers who chose to be vaccinated and those who did not. "In this regard, PBS decided against issuing a blanket re- striction of access to its prem- ises on unvaccinated employ- ees," PBS said. It emphasised that unvacci- nated employees were still al- lowed to access the premises, but had to provide a negative PCR test on a weekly basis. Union takes PBS to task over vaccine policy for staff and visitors

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