The Malta Independent 8 August 2020, Saturday

Higher and higher

Victor Calleja Sunday, 2 August 2020, 08:30 Last update: about 7 days ago

If there is one thing most scientists and doctors agree on, it is that smoking truly kills. It causes cancer not just of the body parts usually connected to smoking, like lungs, but anywhere in the body. In addition, smoking kills not just the smoker but also the passive smoker. And sucks away good air. All in all, everything about smoking stinks.

It was a lovely change to go to outdoor restaurants and cafes and see smokers outdone by non-smoking patrons. To see them banished with their filthy habit. For once, it was the smokers who were made to suffer when enjoying a meal or a drink outside. And when “outside” is semi-enclosed, cigarette smoke is a real horror.

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Covid, horrid, scary Covid, had a few pluses. And this must surely rank as one of them. The health authorities, led no doubt by Charmaine Gauci, decreed that our breathing and health were more important than lucre. For once, people’s interests were put before big business and the greedy entrepreneurs who encourage smokers to keep their enterprise going.

Smoking, or the manufacture and sale of cigarettes, spells good revenue for government, which is why such a known contributor to disease and death will never be stamped out. Or controlled. This was a brave new world.

Nobody said much publicly, but anyone with health and air-quality in mind appreciated this move. People should have been out fighting for this measure to be implemented permanently.

That was then. That was when the health authorities seemed to be in control.

The smoking ban and how it was disposed of is a sad metaphor of what has happened in this country. The parallels with the overall situation are scary.

There was a brief period when we lived in hope. But it was so fleeting that it now feels like a long past dream. Ironically, in the worst of times, in virus times, hope was resurgent. It looked like we were going to change our way of life. We were going to turn over a new leaf.

We seemed to have learnt our lesson.

We realised traffic was bad for us, pollution was killing us, overbuilding was destroying the golden goose, and we promised to do better.

Covid-19 be damned. It was a true eyeopener. A tough time for all, especially for the stricken and their nearest and dearest. Yet, in all the unleashed horror, ironically life improved for some.

The cleaner air meant better breathing. Pollution levels diminished substantially.

Non-essential businesses were closed and many offices worked either reduced hours or none at all. The change was, of course, unsustainable long-term.

Yet we hoped. Hoped to see less traffic, better vehicle management, less mayhem on the roads.

Even on a political scale, some change for the better gave a flicker of hope. Robert Abela, who took over from his power-obsessed predecessor, made a few moves which inspired faith in a seismic shift.

But, with regards to the pandemic, the noblest gesture from the prime minister was that he seemed to have passed the baton of decision-making in the health sector to his deputy, Chris Fearne, who entrusted Charmaine Gauci with the most important moves.

Compared to the brutes in the US, Britain and Brazil, our little bully in Castille seemed to have taken a few steps back and entrusted the experts to call the shots.

All produced good vibes. The world was in total shock, yet tiny Malta seemed to make sense. Was Robert Abela the bully a good leader after all?

We breathed, we had hope, we looked forward to a better world post-Covid. Yet the pandemic was still not over.

When Robert Abela emerged in victorious mode to announce that we had beaten Covid, the ears were stung. The boy who would be prime minister but should have stayed in diapers appeared cocky and bright.

Instead of doing as the experts all over the world advised – and I imagine sensible people like Charmaine Gauci did too – and not relaxing too quickly, the authorities danced to the sway of big business.

Mass events were given the all-clear. Travel was opened up indiscriminately with hardly any restrictions. And because we have won the war against the virus, smoking is once again allowed in open-air and pseudo open-air locales.

Robert Abela, who temporarily seemed to be making some sense, is totally out of his depth. Instead of taking a step back and saying he had rushed things, he embraced his Labour stooges and announced business will go on as usual. Instead of admitting his mistake, he stamped his feet and repeated his mantra that it’s business as usual.

The man is now unmasked for what he really is: a man who cares not what the experts say but who will do the bidding of big business. Like cigarette merchants, he cares very little about the public’s health. As long as the economy is safeguarded, everything else will be fine is the message being conveyed.

In this modern age where the use of marijuana is more and more acceptable, the perception is that the leaders of our country are permanently high on weed, unless they are living on another planet.

Who needs experts when you have Robert Abela who keeps riding high in all polls?

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