The Malta Independent 8 April 2020, Wednesday

Not just life

Rachel Borg Saturday, 21 March 2020, 07:00 Last update: about 17 days ago

Taking stock of the astounding mortality rate by coronavirus in Italy is really heartbreaking.  As of Wednesday, the virus had killed 2,978 across Italy with the majority in Lombardy region, when the death figure rose by a record 475 in one day. Italy also has a total of 35,713 confirmed cases.  

We are shocked by the number of deaths and we are concerned about the demographic and social change that will result in Italy. The elderly people are well respected there and continue to offer very much to society in wisdom, culture, empathy, knowledge and skills. They take with them a wealth of patrimony and good will. 

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The area of Lombardy is rich and a work engine for Italian industry. Many companies have expanded to China and it is not surprising that it was in this region that the virus spread so much. 

Until now, it was common to think that a bottle of good wine, a leisurely meal and keeping fit would solve any problem with age. The social element is also well connected and travel has been at the forefront of many elderly couples who can afford to visit far off countries or go on cruises.

Until now. COVID-19 managed to get a grip over the Italians. It is as though it did not just want to strike as a pandemic but to drive a knife into the soul of humanity. It has taken not just many lives but also the heart of nation. And not just any nation. Many people imported the virus into their own country after returning from travel to Italy. The scenes of the Trevi Fountain with the ducks in it and the dolphins frolicking in the canals of Venice are too surreal to believe. Singing in Naples is never unusual but to listen to opera and classic songs being sung from balconies of apartment block without the thriving streets as its stage was something which will be etched onto our memory. One memory to replace the thousands that have been buried. 

Here on our island of Malta we hold our breath and pray that like the angel on the Passover as the Israelites in Egypt prepared to flee, it will pass us by. We know that this is very unlikely and that we should be ready for worse to come, but our faith has come through for us in the past and we are confident that we are not alone. This can be seen in the dedicated work that is being done by the medical profession at Mater Dei Hospital. Their sustained efforts to plan and provide for the influx of patients, the testing of cases and the positive spirit they elude, with special mention going to Profs Charmaine Gauci and Dr Christopher Barbara under the leadership of the Minister for Health, Dr Chis Fearne, is very reassuring. At the end of the day, we know we are all human and with the cosmopolitan life-style which has become common place in Malta, with all our tourism, both incoming and outgoing, we have not been detached from contagion. 

Our thoughts then go to the many families who have small and medium-sized businesses, for whom this halt to human activity has meant a hard if not fatal blow. The measures taken by the Government to aid industry have fallen short of what is needed and this may lead to the public wanting to have restrictions lifted before it is wise to do so. Much more needs to be done between the Government and social partners to come to a meaningful aid package, to avert a big crisis.

It has been emphasized in the recent past, how many people have not felt the growth in the economy and have to struggle to make investments and employ staff. The economic wealth, if it is there, is not trickling down as it was said it would. Taxes, direct or indirect, hidden or revealed after the budget, cost of living increase, higher expectations, the enormous increase in rent and the price of property are all already a heavy weight on SMEs. Now these enterprises are expected to bear the burden of the cost of COVID-19. As will ordinary employees, native or foreign.

It will, indeed, be very hard for hotels, businesses and the retail sector to accept all the corruption that they know very well has cost our economy millions and simply try to rise above this calamity. The cost of corruption can no longer be swept under the carpet. From little things to the fat chunks of our taxes that have been diverted to corrupt schemes and set-ups and persons who are known. Now the public can finally understand that corruption hurts and it is not enough to say that you are doing well or getting by and close an eye to it.

Like a flying saucer from space, we look at St. Luke’s Hospital and Gozo General and wonder where all our money has gone and why we are left to face this great need with just Mater Dei. 

We are resilient people, although we may have become rather soft in allowing corruption to drive our bottom line, so that this comes as an even harder shock to the system now.  We must re-boot quickly and delete all the junk and corrupt files that have been in our programmes for too long now. 

Above all, though, we hope to emerge from this crisis without too much loss of life and knowing more about ourselves, our ability and our potential, than we did a short while ago.

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