The Malta Independent 24 September 2021, Friday

TMID Editorial: Political rallies - Are they worth the risk?

Saturday, 11 September 2021, 08:45 Last update: about 13 days ago

Standing events were allowed again as of this week, and ‘test’ events are to be held to determine the way forward when it comes to mass events in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That the authorities have moved on this matter and the country is slowly being allowed to return to normal is positive. After all, infection numbers are down again and 90% of the population is vaccinated.

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But the usual problem persists: the total lack of enforcement.

Videos from Paceville this week showed that many partygoers are still openly breaking the rules. Enforcement at establishments is greatly lacking.

Those establishments that are actually trying to stick to the rules are finding it hard to control the crowds of revellers.

Footage published online by Times of Malta showed people standing up and mingling, sharing drinks, smoking inside and not wearing masks when they were supposed to. Bouncers and DJs tried their best to control the situation and get the attendees to follow the rules, but it was really and truly a free-for-all.

This has been happening all summer, even when only seated events were allowed. Some clubs actually managed to control the crowds and stick to the rules, but others did not. Videos of people dancing and mingling at supposedly seated events were commonplace over the past months. Not to mention the illegal gatherings that keep taking place all around the island, and which often go unpoliced, despite the videos posted by people on social media.

There are many sides to this story, and no single authority or group should shoulder the blame on its own. The authorities have lacked on enforcement. The partygoers who complain about restrictions are usually the first ones to break the rules. And some club owners and event organisers have turned a blind eye to what was happening before them.

Yet we are heading back to a situation where large gatherings are allowed. And this is not only happening in the entertainment scene. We have to see this in a context where schools will soon reopen, and university students will remain to campus. We must also see it in a context where the political parties are going to start organising mass rallies.

The last point is perhaps the most worrying one. Some have said that the rules have been changed now only to suit the political parties as they gear up for the general election. Up until a few weeks ago, we thought the next election campaign would be different – that it would be one without traditional mass meetings and rallies – but it seems that this will not be the case.

We have to ask whether this is a wise move in the current circumstances. Are we heading into a situation where we will open all the floodgates and then battle the consequences?

While we understand that people are eager to return to normality, we cannot open up everything at one go. Schools and university are guided by strict protocols, so there should be no real problem there.

When it comes to entertainment events, we should wait and see what the result of these ‘test cases’ will be. Let us take one step at a time and see how it goes, before we start holding political rallies.

At this stage we have to ask: are mass meetings truly a priority? Should they be placed on par with education and the wellbeing of our society? Can they be avoided, in an age where everything can take place online? Are they worth the risk?

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