Like nothing ever before

The virus that no one believed would hit us, has struck home, and in doing so it has changed our life and habits

Unprecedented times indeed. It brings out the worst and best in all of us. The virus that no one believed would hit us, has struck home, and in doing so it has changed our life and habits. Brought us all down to ground zero.

It is perhaps a time to reflect and ask ourselves how fragile life is and how it can all change so dramatically in just 24 hours. Those that have suffered deprivation because of war and economic deprivation know what it means to lose everything. We have not lost everything but some people feel they have.

Suddenly we have become imbued to the protocol of limiting contamination by cleaning our hands, covering our mouths when sneezing, wearing protective suits inside hospitals… (anyone who has had to visit oncology patients would be very conscious of such a regime); handshakes, kissing and even close proximity are no longer the norm.

Overnight, political issues seem to evaporate. Last week we were covering the Vitals hospitals scandal and the Steward contract; today it may seem irrelevant (although it is not).

Prof. Charmaine Gauci, previously well known in our media circle, has become a household name, her briefings an appointment we cannot afford to miss.

People have stocked up their freezers with kilogrammes of meat, and bathrooms are adorned by piles of toilet paper. Suddenly everyone seems to understand what a virus is and comprehend the difference between a virus and a bacterium. No one seems to be short of advice or the latest news.

And yet, we are still at the beginning of this surreal contagion. If the infections spike, we may be facing the first deaths, and those will be very probably limited to the elderly with weak immune systems. Who knows? Beyond the health concerns, many businesses will be severely damaged and some may be crippled, unable to sustain their salary bill. The self-employed will fare worse.

Yesterday’s measures will help, but they fall short. The biggest cost for any business, big and small, are the salaries. A business survives with its turnover and a serious problem of cash flow will not see hundreds of businesses through April. More so, because there will be no trade. And let us remember that some businesses have been shell shocked since December.

This is a trying time and it will need immediate attention.

Political parties should steer clear of making political statements or observations. Most people are switched off and are unwilling to listen to rhetoric or self-praise. The prime minister Robert Abela has had a daunting task with no chance or opportunity to live through his honeymoon. At this stage, I believe he has played his cards right and the decision taken are balanced.

We have never seen a pandemic like this before and we can only have one set of responses. If they are followed well, we could avoid the worst.

Abela has said that we have had chance to learn from the Italian experience. In other words, from the way the Italian handled the crisis. And here it is interesting to see the difference between the way South Korea and Italy handled COVID-19. Both countries had the same number of infected people but South Korea had fewer deaths.

The answer to that is that South Koreans embarked on a surveillance and intelligence approach, checking the location and movements of infected people by the use of mobile data and CCTV, and in that way located other infected people and enforced quarantine.

Sure enough there are issues of privacy; but just see the difference between the number of individuals who died in South Korea and those in Italy. In Italy’s case it was not a case of privacy but a breakdown in the health system.

Which brings me to the suggestion that since we are only at 18 when it comes to infections as we go to print, it could be a great opportunity for the Malta Security Services to get involved and use their knowledge to address this matter, by tracking people who could potentially have been unknowingly or knowingly with the infected.

Last Sunday, I was eating in a restaurant and it was packed with people laughing and smiling, eating their food a week later Malta is a very different place.

What is sure that here at MaltaToday, we are determined to keep the flag flying and at all costs, just in the same way as our colleagues in the other media houses are doing. We too face serious fiscal challenges. But this is the time for us to keep the public informed and abreast of the latest.