The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

Collective responsibility

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 5 April 2020, 09:21 Last update: about 3 months ago

"Distance means so little when life means so much" – Amit Kalantri, Indian author

The current pandemic should lead us to appreciate better our size as a country and our resilience as a nation.  We are one of the smallest and the 7th most densely populated country in the world. An approximate total of 441,543 people live on 316 square kilometers of land. Our population density is of 1,562 persons per square kilometer. With a sound welfare state and a healthy lifestyle, life expectancy has grown over recent years.  We have 118,000 persons aged 65 and over, a cohort that shows that the number of aged dependent people above working age amounts to 23.1% of the whole population in Malta and Gozo.

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In view of the current emergency, these statistics, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (Population Division), depict the real scenario within which we have to act. They should convince us more than ever of the importance of social distancing in our fight against the Covid-19 virus.

 

Social distancing

Health authorities across the world - including our very own capable and admirable team of experts - give us two simple but logical measures to combat this invisible but deadly enemy: quarantine and social distancing. Despite repeated appeals and subsequent strict penalties, some disregard all instructions and are complacent with their normal habits, thus giving rise to an increase in local transmissions.

By keeping away from others as much as possible, we could minimize the amount of infected people entering our hospitals and slow the spread of the virus. It is important for all of us not be be complacent. As Shelly Morrison aptly put it, ‘complacency is a sword with two edges. One edge kills hard earned successes while the other end stops future glories. Complaceny is a murderer and a barrier.’

 

Sterling health services

It is a fact that the situation in Malta is not as dire as it is in other countries. We have been fortunate thus far. Thanks to the hard-work and professionalism of the excellent team of women and men led by Health Minister Chris Fearne and Professor Charmaine Gauci, our national health service has managed up till now, to curb the spread of the virus within our community.  It is to their credit that Malta has been internationally recognised as the best example to many other countries in thier efforts to contain further casualties.

This is all thanks to our own experts who recognised the impact this virus was having and immediately set about training and planning for the eventuality of its reaching our shores.  The money injected into preparing for the pandemic would not have been available had it not been for the wise and responsible way the Labour Government managed the country’s wealth. Today, this Government has shown more than ever before, how important it is to have an economic contingency plan in place and how vital extra funds are when faced with crises beyond our control. The Covid 19 pandemic came upon us like a thief in the night but found us prepared. World news show that other countries were not as fortunate.  Additionally, all kinds of fake news doing the rounds add further hurdles that amount to a criminal act.

 

A collective effort

The ceaseless efforts taking place to combat the socio-economic effects brought about by this pandemic are commendable. However, the Government cannot win this battle alone.  Each and every one of us must pull one rope and help out to the best of our ability. We cannot be complacent. One step in the wrong direction and we could end up in the same situation as our neighbouring countries and beyond. It is never enough to repeat our appeals about the importance of our collective responsability. 

Hence the importance of social distancing. In such an emergency it is no harm being repetitive.  Healthy people need to understand that the virus can be inside them without realising it - in some cases the virus can show mild or no symptoms. Complacency on their part would induce them to continue in their day-to-day activities, as if it's business as usual. This means that they continue to spread the virus to others and the chain of infections will never be broken. Even worse, if a person is not aware that he is infected and continues to roam outside at large, he could be causing the death of another person less fortunate than himself. And that is a crime!

It is therefore a priority that each and every one of us adheres to the rules issued by the Health Department and avoid gatherings and physical communication. We must also avoid taking heed of conspiracy theories and misleading gossip that are flying around the social media. This hinders and endangers the sterling work of our front-line care workers and threatens their own health. We must be responsible, stay safe and ensure safety for others.

 

The elderly 

This leads me to a very important point. The Novel Corona Virus can harm people of all ages and is deadly to older persons with pre-existing medical conditions. From data and evidence, it is the elderly - one fourth of our population - who are most at risk of succumbing to the disease.

Self-isolation and minimal contact can be difficult for anyone and particularly for the elderly and their relatives. One has to keep in mind however, that this situation will not last forever. There is also the assurance that the elderly who have no one to assist them will have food and medicines delivered to their door. That is why I always stressed for strong community based services. While in office as Parliamentary Secretary responsible for older persons, we strengthened and heavily invested in existing community services, revamping CommCare and introduced new forms of assistance. Then while at the helm of the Gozo Ministry I also introduced the new innovative service of HomeAssist intended to assist home bound older persons in their daily needs. The concept is now being used on a national level.

 

Government’s priority

The Labour Goverment always placed the well-being of its citizens at the top of the agenda. The holistic approach with which it is dealing with this unprecedented situation gives top priority to people’s health followed by safeguarding jobs and helping businesses hard hit by the virus. This has been done through a an unprecedented massive intervention, consisting of a 2 billion euros measure approved by Parliament last Monday.  It will cover the costs of a package of measures that includes €700 million in tax deferrals, €900 million in loan guarantees, a €210 million injection to assist the economy, and an additional €35 million to health authorities to fight Covid-19. The main objective of this package is to safeguard jobs and guarantee a minimun level of income for affected workers.

As Professor Scicluna stated, the people's health takes precedence over the economy. In the current situation, we must all unite, join forces and make all the necessary changes and sacrifices for the common good - including our own good.  The virus makes no distinction between rich or poor, healthy or sick, infirm or young. We are blessed to have the backup of a strong and watchful government.

Our resilience as a nation in the face of calamities is legendary.  Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive. (Jamais Cascio). It is now up to us to rise to the occasion with the conviction that together as one we will win this new battle hands down.

 

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