The Malta Independent 19 June 2021, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Covid-19 – Let us not make the same mistakes

Thursday, 13 May 2021, 08:55 Last update: about 2 months ago

In May of last year, Malta was preparing to what Prime Minister Robert Abela had precociously described as a “return to normality”. You will remember that, at the time, Malta was facing the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic but a drop in numbers had pushed the government to announce the easing of restrictions, which included the reopening of the airport, then slated for 1 July.

There had been calls for caution, particularly from organisations in the medical sphere, but Abela had dismissed warnings about a resurgence of the virus, insisting that “waves are only in the sea”. We know what happened – once July arrived, there was a steep spike in the daily number of cases which climbed first over 100, then 200 and even reached more than 500 in March, a full nine months after the so-called second wave first hit.

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The numbers have since gone down again, and with the vaccination campaign now in full swing as Malta edges closer to reaching herd immunity, many of the restrictions which have been in place for weeks or months, are now being gradually eased again. Malta is also gearing up to the 1 June target of “reopening” the tourism industry – technically, it was never closed, as once the airport reopened on 1 July last year, foreigners were free to travel to the islands.

But, as we all know, the tourism industry suffered badly in the past months, and a government campaign is aimed to entice visitors to the country once it is officially “reopened”. Tourists booking a five-star hotel will be getting €100 from the Malta Tourism Authority, which will be matched by the hotel for a total of €200, while travellers opting for four- and three-star hotels will be getting €150 and €100 respectively. Students coming to Malta to learn English will be getting €10 per night if they stay here for two weeks.

These questionable incentives – such offers normally attract people from the lower classes of society, those looking for freebies simply because they have little to spend – will hopefully serve to rekindle an economy which has been struggling since Covid-19 reached our shores. Together with the reopening of non-essential retail outlets and restaurants, the kick-starting of the tourism industry will be pure oxygen to businesses and hoteliers.

But we cannot afford to make the same mistakes as last year, when the possibility of a second surge of the virus was not given due attention by the government. It is good to note that the government, this time round, has adopted a more cautious approach, but these efforts will go down the drain unless the restrictions that still exist continue to be enforced and, most of all, unless each and every one of us remains disciplined.

This also applies for the tourists who will be coming to Malta and, in this respect, once they step into the airport terminal they should be informed on what restrictions are in place. This is to avoid any misunderstanding and also as a protection to the Maltese population.

We know that it has taken us months to bring down the numbers to the current low levels. But it takes little, perhaps just one mass activity or illegal party, for the virus to spread again.

We all do not want to go back to having 500 cases in one day.

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