The Malta Independent 8 August 2020, Saturday

Summer nightmares: Covid and migrants

Noel Grima Sunday, 2 August 2020, 08:46 Last update: about 7 days ago

The aim of public policy is to create the right environment so that the lives of citizens can carry on with the least hassles possible.

That is why we try and construct the roads that provide the most comfortable rides, the buildings that protect and shelter from weather extremes, the jobs that enable citizens to earn a family wage, etc.

It goes without saying that whenever anything happens that threatens the peaceful living of citizens, these look up to the authorities to solve the problems as soon as possible.

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Last week two huge problems came up, almost simultaneously, and greatly shocked the country.

The first was a resurgent Covid. We have spent a winter like no other, hiding in our homes, restricting our forays outside, cutting down on social interaction, etc.

Thanks to public co-operation and contact tracing that worked, we kept our infections so low that we began to boast we are a Covid-free country.

But that was before the airport re-opened. This was not as gradual as many would have wanted. Malta opened to countries reputed as safe but then as the government came under intense pressure it opened to other countries as well. Many of these countries claimed at the time they had Covid under control but this is a very conditional statement to make in times like this and in fact, some of the markets we opened to saw a spike of infections.

Then all of a sudden we began hearing about a massive party held for which people came from abroad. Then the inevitable happened and we saw to our horror that people had become infected. Their trip to the Covid-free island had given them a souvenir to remember once they terminate their quarantine and return back home.

Then as it happened and as is the pernicious nature of Covid, just one person from those who attended the party went to his hometown which was celebrating a scaled-down version of the annual festa and somehow managed to infect quite a number of fellow supporters.

When the news came it was as if an atom bomb had been set up in the middle of the town. People flocked to be tested and the stressed system broke down and there was a long queue to be tested and another long wait to get results. People could have infected others while they waited. The numbers for the town kept increasing till the last report on Friday afternoon as I am writing.

In a matter of days the town had become the Covid capital of Malta and all, as far as we know, because of one single fun-loving diffuser.

True to form, massive reaction then set in. The first target was the feasts. The church had watched while its own protocols were sidelined. What was supposed to be a penitential pilgrimage became fully-fledged processions. Band marches were back, not just accompanying the pilgrimage/procession, but also with the 'marc ta' fil-ghodu' in the noonday sun with girls hoisted on male shoulders.

So the first decision was to ban all band marches with one left to ask why didn’t this ban come a week or two before when one saw what was happening.

This parochial but not insignificant issue apart, a bigger issue regarded the original big party at which the original infestation seems to have occurred. The hotel and the organisers quickly shut down and cancelled related events.

But diligent media investigations later found this was no one-off event. There are a stream of mass events coming and the BBC even reported that Malta seemed to be trying to fill in the gap in the mass events market which have been banned elsewhere.

Then, a further media investigation, it was claimed the mass events market was in the hands of a closed group of Labour supporters who had already been mentioned in a parliamentary committee as being given substantial help by a largely partisan MTA.

Up to Friday at least, many of these mass events are still on and have not been cancelled.

Which could conceivably explain why the prime minister, usually so prompt to hold a press conference with all backdrops and all, somehow eclipsed himself and gave his deputy the duty of announcing the tightening of the screw not just banning band marches but also introducing protocols on gatherings of crowds that one honestly questions how on earth can they be enforced.

Now again media speculation has explained the Opposition's reticence on this issue to the private business interests of the Opposition’s spokesman whose hotels get filled in by party goers.

We already know from our direct experience how enforcement in Malta is a joke – from people going facemask-less in shops and on buses. In fact, the association of doctors has already termed these new directives as too little too late.

And lastly, as if the above was not enough, we continue to get migrant boats who somehow all start to sink when just inside Malta's area, and this one had more than half its passengers infected with Covid.

Some wise guy tried to hide away this number from Malta's tally knowing that the full number could push our R factor but this ruse was detected, to our collective shame.

It now rests to see if our numbers continue to rise and other countries start closing up on us.

On our part, we wait to see if we get more occurrences as happened in a medical ward at Mater Dei which had to be closed and the entire medical complement quarantined because of just one patient. We do not have the wards and the medical complements that we can spare.

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