It’s just too easy to blame it all on immigrants...

Who, then, is to blame for the spectacular materialisation of this very prediction, so soon after it was made?

Like many others, I watched the interview Prime Minister Robert Abela gave to One TV this week: the one where he appeared to blame the current resurgence in COVID-19 – or ‘second wave’, of the kind that Abela himself once told us was only to found ‘in the sea’) – on a single cluster of 65 new cases, out of 98 African immigrants rescued on a single day.

And like probably only a few others who watched it, I also felt a little irked – if not downright insulted – by the brazen way he tried to deflect his own responsibility for the current situation; by scapegoating what can only be described as the most vulnerable and socially ‘unpopular’ minority-group in the entire country.

Tell you the truth: I was actually outraged by that suggestion… almost as outraged as I imagine many Labour supporters would be, if I went on to say that it reminded me of speeches by former fascist dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini: both of whom likewise gained much political traction, in their day, by simply blaming all their countries’ problems on a single, much-maligned ethnic minority.

And yes: I suppose the outrage would be justified, too… because Hitler and Mussolini deliberately made racism and xenophobia the cornerstone of their political ideology (and also committed a few million or so murders while they were at it): and I don’t think it would exactly be ‘fair’ to saddle Robert Abela with the same level of culpability, just on the basis of such a fleeting – and, admittedly, very superficial - analogy.

But then again... well, that’s precisely what outraged me so much in that interview to begin with. It is not exactly ‘fair’, either, for the prime minister of a country to point fingers of blame at one particular group of people – any group of people: still less, one which tends to be the targeted by racism and xenophobia on such a regular basis anyway – for a crisis they did not cause themselves; and to which, in any case, their own numbers are not actually contributing very much at the moment.

Because that’s the real problem with Abela’s astonishing claim: it is not just unfair… but also blatantly untrue.

At the risk of repeating arguments that have already been made by others: it is misleading, to say the least, to suggest that Malta’s recent dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases can be boiled down to any one single cluster…even more so when that cluster, at 65, amounts to less than half the total number of new cases reported since July 22.

In any case, all 65 of those immigrants were transferred directly to detention centres the moment they set foot on the island… which means that (unlike other incoming categories, such as tourists and returning holiday-makers) they have effectively been in forced quarantine ever since arrival, with virtually zero chance of infecting anyone else in the wider community.

By the same token, then, the real cause for COVID-19 concern right now should be directed at all the other new cases that have been reported so far (and, even more so, the estimated 20% more undetected cases that will certainly also be out there)… minus those 65.

I need hardly add that these people are highly unlikely to be solely (or even in part) African immigrants… at least, not unless the recent ‘Takeover’ party at the Radisson Hotel had been heavily advertised at the open centres of Marsa and Hal Far; or unless Malta’s migrant community has suddenly taken to attending events like the Santa Venera village festa in exceptionally large numbers...    

No, they are much more likely to consist of Maltese people, and a few other categories that Robert Abela so casually left out of his target-list: like the random, sporadic tourists we invited here, when we re-opened our airport to all the usual destinations… including some of the worst-hit regions of Europe and elsewhere… whilst also unilaterally declaring that the COVID-19 emergency was ‘over’.

And this, ultimately, is what makes Abela’s insinuation so unpalatable. Not only are those 65 immigrants entirely blameless for the current epidemic… but the resurgence itself can be traced, directly and unequivocally, to decisions and attitudes taken by Prime Minister Robert Abela himself, and other members of his government.

I’ve already mentioned the airport; but there was also the decision to completely lift all but a handful of COVID-19 safety precautions on June 30: including (among many others) a ban on gatherings of larger than four people.

And it’s not as though the possible consequences of such a hasty, unrestricted re-opening policy had not been made abundantly clear from beforehand, either.

People like MHRA chairman Tony Zahra might today argue that ‘hindsight gives us all 20/20 vision’… but there were plenty of other voices in the country – including all the medical associations, as well as the Superintendence of Public Health - which had repeatedly warned us about the possibility of a renewed epidemic, should Malta choose to open up too much, and too quickly.

They didn’t need ‘hindsight’ to make that prediction; all they needed to do was look at the experience of other countries, including our closest neighbours… something that both Abela’s government, and all the business interests that lobbied so hard for a speedy re-opening, seemed incapable of doing when it really mattered most: i.e., around three or four short weeks ago.

Who, then, is to blame for the spectacular materialisation of this very prediction, so soon after it was made?

Is it the Prime Minister who – until very recently – consistently belittled and pooh-poohed all such concerns, while giving us all endless assurances that everything would simply return to normality without a hitch?

Is it the Prime Minister who so rashly declared that ‘Malta won its war on COVID-19’… thus imparting the message, loud and clear, that the danger was firmly ‘behind us’?

Or is it the Prime Minister who simply failed to listen to any of the expert advice he’d been given, time and again, concerning the risks of implementing his own policies?

No, of course not. It’s the fault of a bunch of African immigrants, naturally… as it always seems to be, whenever a Maltese government has been placed with its back to the wall, by circumstances that are entirely of its own making.