The Malta Independent 13 July 2020, Monday

The new negative

Rachel Borg Saturday, 23 May 2020, 07:51 Last update: about 3 months ago

With much zeal, the new leader of the Nationalist Party Dr Adrian Delia had taken it upon himself to not ever be labeled as negative. He dodged any mention of every corruption scandal, every lie and each denial coming from the four corners of the island and assiduously stuck to his new way of not speaking about anything that could warrant a criticism from across the pond that the Nationalists are negative. He turned his back on Simon Busuttil and on the biggest injustices and kept steady on his choice of being a positive leader extending offers of cooperation with the government on many instances.

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Positive came and positive went. The new way is now a new normal where it is the job that counts and not the attitude. If something needs criticizing then it should be and if something needs praising and constructive ideas than that is available too.

It could also be seen that no matter how hard they tried to restructure it, Joseph Muscat’s departure could not very easily become a positive and that, indeed, the negative was right in it like yolk in an egg.

So that slogan was shelved for a while. But only a little while. Quick on the mark is the new negative of not bashing the lifting of restrictions to do with controlling the coronavirus. The re-opening of restaurants and non-essential services such as hair-dressers was announced by the Prime Minister in a two-hour show of invincibility, and came with all the shields raised against anyone who should disagree or who might question the appropriate timing of the decisions.

Just like Boris Johnson and Project Fear levelled against anyone who rang alarm bells on Brexit, our own business experts have quickly stood up and wagged a finger at any contradiction of the new business measures. Very quickly the arena has shifted from the restaurant pavement to the airport where the next battle scene is being set.

So any talk of the number of rising cases, of the increasing R factor to 1.5, of the number of quarantined care-workers, of the reminder that the virus is still around and the expert advice on wearing a mask, hygiene and social distancing being still applicable, is waved away and a label of scaremongering and negative is slapped onto your t-shirt or facebook post.

On the other hand, the newly re-opened businesses are perplexed and caught between a rock and hard place. But, like some family quarrel, it should be kept quiet to avoid giving scandal to others. God Forbid you should have some doubt about the wisdom of the decisions. After all, Robert Abela did not come alone for 2 hours on prime time TV.  He had “Chris” and “Charmaine”. Buddies. They came to the decisions after sitting 2 metres distant and having a glass of bubbly, it would seem, from his way of addressing a Minister and a Professor on a most serious matter. Everything in Malta becomes over-familiar, creates an in-or-out division amongst the people and assumes ownership of the narrative.

Care of the people’s health, value for the work done to prevent a major outbreak of the virus become property of the speaker and the on or off buttons are all lit up on the panel according to their dictate.

The facts around the progression of the virus become no longer about what we can do, but what we must do, and if we now must go back to business then that is all.

After all, Malta lived through some of the most unspeakable corruption and at the same time generated economic wealth. Why would we not trust and rely on the same formula to see us through this crisis?

My friend cancelled her wedding reception yesterday. The reception was due to be held at the end of June. Shop owners say they have been jilted when a mother-of-the-bride comes to the shop for a new dress and cannot try it on. Glad though we are that we don’t have to mess with home hair dye any longer, we are still looking around in a fog as we try to imagine what it will be like to actually get an appointment at the hairdresser.

We remain baffled as to why we cannot go to hear mass or have a baptism. There are many priests who are in the senior age group but that does not mean they cannot stand more than 2 metres away from a socially-distanced congregation and have someone younger serve Holy Communion. Same goes for Confession where both priest and the person confessing can wear a mask.

Whatever we do in the country we remain easily silenced and conditioned to avoid conflict. All it takes is the Negattiv label and mouths are kept shut. The usual hate-speech is always waiting to rear its’ head too. Who would want to look stupid and question the wisdom of opening at this time?

What about being seen as a party pooper or boring because you choose to stay at home? A nice little category has been reserved for the “vulnerable’, the over 65’s or persons with some underlying health issue. Anyone who scoffs at going to a restaurant has a group created for them too.  They can join the vulnerables. 

Only it is the vulnerable who have been labeled and discriminated here. Many are just like their adult children or neighbours. Should the virus regain momentum and start spreading exponentially, they will be the ones told to stay in again. 

Balance must be found not just between health and the economy, between the positive effect of social distancing and the negative effect of it, but also between the ones who will carry the burden and those who won’t. 

The decision to lift restrictions should never be made a political or propaganda tool. If it is safe and creates a necessary balance everyone should still be free to have their opinion without being cast aside and discriminated against. Every person counts. 

We missed having relationships, so why are we carving up our relationships now? 

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