The Malta Independent 4 December 2021, Saturday

Covid Christmas Take 2

Michael Briguglio Thursday, 25 November 2021, 07:50 Last update: about 9 days ago

Around this time last year, in my op-ed in The Malta Independent, I presented a short snapshot of the Covid-19 situation in Malta and beyond in the run-up to Christmas. This was a time when infection numbers were once again on the increase, and when societies were navigating between people's rights and responsibilities and the role of their respective states in this regard.

During this time, optimism on the effectiveness of new vaccines was on the up, and people in richer countries (including Malta) were assured of universal accessibility. The same could not be said for people in poorer countries. Add to this Covid- and vaccine- scepticism in the richer countries, the price of which is being paid up to this day.

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Indeed, one year later, a fourth wave of Covid-19 is haunting Europe, and in various cases, has already taken hold of national policies and societal arrangements.

Numbers are up in Malta too, despite the country's resilience, effective policymaking, and community spirit in the field. With one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, a swift rolling out of boosters, as well as reasonable policies which balance rights and responsibilities, we are once again learning that despite being a small island, Malta is connected to the world. The pandemic is a global phenomenon, and it does not look like it is going away any time soon.

Undoubtedly, the government will have to adapt and legislate in relation to the situation. Here, may I emphasise what both the Malta Sociological Association and myself had respectively written to the government regarding its post-Covid plans earlier this year: First, that Covid should be seen as a process rather than as a series of 'before' and 'after' scenarios; and second, that policy making should involve evidence-based impact assessments, which again, are not one-off exercises but ongoing processes.

I believe that one reason why Malta has performed much better than many other countries in the Covid context is because of the cross-party and societal consensus on the importance of vaccines and policy programmes. We should be proud that what some refer to as a 'backward' country at the periphery of Europe, has a much higher vaccination rate and better resilience than so-called 'advanced' parts of Europe from Brussels to Vienna. We should also keep mind that amid sensationalist news stories which depict the anti-social behaviour of some individuals and which go viral on social media, as a nation we have shown a strong sense of community during the pandemic.

As the second Covid Christmas approaches, many of us will want to celebrate the festive season with our loved ones. Many of us have already made plans for how to celebrate, with whom, when and where. At the same time, others will be facing loneliness and cannot physically be with their loved ones, for a myriad of reasons ranging from illness to social exclusion, from custody issues to working abroad. The Pandemic complicates things further in the case of restrictions in place in the respective countries, which in turn have polities which range from liberal democratic to totalitarian.

In the final instance, however, despite the regulations, rules, procedures, and protocols, each, and every one of us is navigating and improvising in often unknown territory with no clear guidebook on how to act in specific situations. Some of us, (and in the case of Malta, most of us), trust the health authorities' guidelines, but others do not, even refusing vaccines to the detriment of the common good. Some of us experience relatively high rates of anxiety, others adapt to the situation and yet others act as if nothing has changed.

My two-pence on the second Covid Christmas, to my fellow citizens and residents of Malta, is as follows: Let us follow the guidelines of the Public Health sector, for to-date they have shown to be more trustworthy than alternatives, and as a nation we have performed relatively well. At the same time, let us adopt a stoic approach to our everyday interaction with Covid. There are things which we cannot change, such as being quarantined, but we can adapt to them in diverse ways.

We also must take decisions in our everyday encounters in situations which are not clear-cut, whether as parents, workers, members, or the other plural roles we display in society. Let us be measured in our approaches, let us trust the knowledge of the wise, let us be honest about our situations, and let us be brave in facing reality. If we must make sacrifices for the common good, so be it, but that should not mean that we forfeit gratitude and aspiration for the best in the circumstances.

From a national perspective, and as representatives of a small island which happens to be an EU member state, whenever we represent our country in our respective roles, let us keep insisting that a timely, equitable and efficient distribution of vaccines is a global imperative. With all our differences, we are in this together.

 

Dr Michael Briguglio is a sociologist and senior lecturer at the University of Malta

www.michaelbriguglio.com

 


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