The Malta Independent 22 September 2020, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Covid-19 - Charmaine’s unspoken message

Saturday, 8 August 2020, 08:59 Last update: about 3 months ago

Friday saw the much-awaited return of Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci on Malta’s television screens, just over two months after her last Covid-19 briefing was held on 3 June.

Thousands tuned in as Gauci, in her typical calm and reassuring tone, explained the current situation pertaining to the pandemic as Malta faces a rise in the number of cases of the virus.

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However there was one distinct difference between Friday’s briefing and those which she addressed some months ago: on Friday she was wearing a face mask for the entirety of the hour-long briefing.

It wasn’t just Gauci who donned a face-mask to address the nation on Friday: Prime Minister Robert Abela and Health Minister Chris Fearne both wore a mask when they addressed a press conference, only removing it to speak.

The usage of face masks has been given renewed importance as the number of Covid-19 cases in the country continues to increase.

The wearing of masks is recommended in order to, along with social distancing, mitigate possible transmission of the virus and it is mandatory in a number of places such as shops and public transport.

As of this week, those who are caught not wearing a face-mask where it is obligatory to be worn will be fined 50 – a sign of the government’s decision to clamp-down on those who have not been following measures which, admittedly, had been very sparsely enforced in the first place.

Sometimes the loudest messages are the ones which are left unsaid – and this is the case with Friday’s press conference.  As society looks towards its leaders for an example in a time of uncertainty, Gauci’s decision to wear a face-mask for the whole of the press conference is a pertinent message which enforces the simple fact that people need to wear such face-masks.

Much has been said about the new normal that people must get used to as long as the virus is still among us.  Face-masks are undoubtedly going to be a key part of that new normal.

This has to be emphasised to the general public beyond the threat of a fine: Abela and Fearne’s use of the mask during their own press conference is a good example to start with, but more politicians in the public eye now need to follow suit and wear face-masks when meeting people on visits or during press conferences to really push the message home.

This is especially important when considering that one of the main sources of criticism in Malta’s handling of the pandemic has been mixed and sometimes conflicting messages being sent by politicians when compared to the messages sent by health authorities.

However this is not just an issue for politicians – granted, they must set the example; but it is the people who have to responsibly follow that example. Reducing the spread of the virus is a collective responsibility which has to be shouldered by all members of the public, so all members of the public need to heed the recommendations issued by the health authorities and follow them – fines or no fines.

With the situation now more unpredictable than ever, our message is one: stay safe, maintain social distancing, and wear your mask.

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