The Malta Independent 27 January 2022, Thursday

TMIS Editorial - Covid and mass events: when the rules do not apply for all

Sunday, 21 November 2021, 11:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Covid cases are climbing steadily again, not just in Malta, but across Europe.

We currently have over 700 active cases, with a number of people being treated in hospital.

Some EU member states have been re-introducing lockdowns and other restrictive measures.

We’re also in influenza season, and Christmas is just around the corner, with the promise not only of staff parties and family events but also an increase in virus transmissions.

During such a time, we should be more vigilant than ever, ensuring that the holidays this year can be an enjoyable time, that we do not see more people going to hospital, or possibly worse.

But what do we do instead? We allow a massive event to take place without having the necessary Covid-19 protocols in place and we fail to inspect and enforce the rules, even after the case was brought to the attention of the authorities by this newsroom.

What happened at the Sigma Europe conference at Ta’ Qali this week left many dumbfounded and angry, and with good reason.

The Prime Minister and the Economy Minister boasted about the hundreds of investors visiting the conference, and the thousands of visitors, but no attention was given to the fact that those entering the premises did not have their temperature or Covid-19 vaccine certificates checked, or that practically no one inside was wearing a mask, despite very clear rules.

When this newsroom set out to discover which authority was responsible for enforcing the rules we were taken round in circles. No one was able to answer that question. We were only told that the Covid-19 rules apply to everyone, but no one would tell us why the rules were not being enforced at this high-profile, highly publicised event. No one would say which authority had actually taken it upon itself to ensure that the regulations were being adhered to.

Action was taken when the police and the Malta Tourism Authority shut down a party (related to the conference) in Paceville on Wednesday evening, but no was seemingly interested to look into what was happening at the MFCC.

The evidence was plentiful. There were several photos and videos going round to show that the rules were not being followed. And several visitors and people working at the conference told this newsroom that the situation was a free-for-all. We reported it with prominence, but no one listened.

Some action was taken by the organisers after the publication of our report, but the authorities themselves did nothing.

All we got from the government were videos of Robert Abela and Silvio Schembri visiting the conference, surrounded by dozens of mask-less individuals.

Just last week, Abela spoke about the importance of taking the vaccine booster – it is the only effective way of fighting the pandemic, he said. But then he allowed himself to attend a conference where a total disregard for the rules was being shown.

If the Prime Minister were really serious about Covid mitigation, he would have turned tail and left, and got the authorities to do their job and enforce the rules.

But perhaps he wanted to prove the point made on the same day by the Economy Minister, who remarked that the atmosphere of the event was like a return to how life was prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ironically, a few hours later, Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci was on TVM speaking about the importance of following the rules, and confirming that certain restrictions for mass events are still in place. Vaccine certificates are still required, she said. The same kind of certificate that were not being screened at the MFCC. Masks still need to be worn in public places, Gauci confirmed. The same masks hardly anyone was wearing in Ta’ Qali.

What happened at the MFCC this week was a slap in the face of young couples who are going through hell to organise a wedding during pandemic times, and who have had their weddings crashed by inspectors. It was a slap in the face for hundreds of artists who have suffered for months as a result of the restrictions, and for all those who have always abided by the rules.

It seems, once again, that these rules do not apply for all. This is unfair not only because of the discriminatory way in which enforcement is carried out, but also because a lack of enforcement at mass events could trigger a new spike of infections, to the detriment of the entire country.

Once again, we are showing that we have not learnt from past mistakes. We should know by now that a single mass event can be the catalyst for a new Covid wave, but we seem to be intent of going down that route again.

 

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