The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Way forward – When economy and health collide

Friday, 22 May 2020, 09:13 Last update: about 7 days ago

We have surpassed the 10th week of the Coronavirus pandemic but there is no end in sight yet.

The crisis has affected each and every one of us and, the more time passes, the more we long for the blessed day when all will be back to normal.

As we have stated several times, life as we knew it before the first case was registered in Malta on 7 March will take long to come back, if ever. We are learning to adjust ourselves to what has been described as the “new normal”, one in which we have to wear masks, stick to social distancing and take much more care of hygiene than ever before.

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But, aside from the health aspect, we also all know that this situation has led to adverse effects on the economy, which will probably last much longer that the issues related to health. As a result, while tackling the matters related to health, which the government immediately said was the priority, it also embarked on a programme aimed to alleviate the financial difficulties many private companies found themselves in – and are still facing.

In more recent days, we have had the government announcing the relaxation of measures that were taken in March to contain the spread of the virus. Three weeks ago we had non-essential shops re-opening, and as from today restaurants and vanity shops will also re-open – with restrictions in place. Even here, we have to adjust.

The big debate, however, remains between protecting our health and reopening the economy. It is a question that other countries are trying to answer. Some have taken giant steps in their attempts to kick-start the economy, even though they are still registering many new COVID-19 cases and many deaths each day. Others are still cautious, perhaps waiting to see what will happen in nations that removed certain restrictions. Some have already announced plans to reopen airports and tourist destinations.

In Malta, unions representing medical workers like doctors and nurses are preaching more restraint – also because nearly 300 health care workers have either contracted the virus or are in quarantine because their colleagues have fallen ill. On the other hand, the business community is pushing the government to release the reins even more in a bid to kick-start the economy, worried as it is about the stagnation that has settled in and which needs to be reversed.

It is not easy to strike a balance. The government initially focused more on the need not to put the health sector under pressure, without however forgetting the economic aspect. But the economic shutdown can only be sustained for a limited period of time and it is only natural that the measures put in place are relaxed.

What possibly worried the professionals in the health sector and their unions is that the easing of the measures is coming at a time when the number of newly-registered daily cases is on the rise and the number of active cases has doubled in the last 10 days. On the other hand, the position of the business community was strengthened with the government’s decision to stop plans for a pre-fabricated hospital, which it interpreted as a sign that the worst is over or, at least, the situation has become more manageable.

Yes, we need to re-ignite the economic engines, but we must continue to give great attention to our collective health.

 

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