2020 showed us the State is our strongest line of defence

The pandemic made it clear that having good, well-resourced public services is key. What would have happened if our public health system was not free and did not have all the resources it needed?

 

This week marks a year since Robert became Prime Minister. We had expected the task ahead to be challenging, as the events at the end of 2019 had troubled our society. However, the pandemic that hit the world last year saw our society shaken to its core. All of us had to change our lifestyle in ways that we never would have considered.

The very heart of Maltese life – the extended family – became a source of worry rather than one of strength. For our mutual safety, we had to stay separate from our relatives, and for considerable months we had to work from home and keep our children away from schools. Life became surreal and a constant struggle.

Health professionals faced a threat on which they had little information. For some, 2020 will remain marked as a year of loss of loved ones. Many prosperous businesses saw demand collapse, despite no fault of their own. Culture virtually halted, and even churches closed for a time. Young couples who were starting a new life had to abruptly postpone their plans.

Yet, the darkness of the pandemic was met by the beacon of hope. Our people did not cower in front of this challenge. Tempered by the strong fires of this emergency, the resolve of our nation grew stronger. Acts of self-sacrifice and dedication confirmed that solidarity is an underlying characteristic of the people of Malta and Gozo. We never lost the ability to smile and face adversity with the confidence that, together, we can beat all odds.

In 2020 we had to devote all our efforts to safeguard what we had achieved as a society in previous years. This dominated the efforts of the new administration. Despite that, a new vision to transform our future was communicated.

2021 has the potential to truly be a year of rebirth and renewal for our country. It is a constant of human history that great loss is followed by great achievement. In Europe after the Black Death, came the Renaissance. After the devastation of the Great Siege in Malta, Valletta emerged. The Great Depression led to the New Deal in the US. In Malta the second world war was followed by universal suffrage, compulsory education and social security.

This year should reflect an extraordinary effort to transform our society. We owe it to ourselves. While medical advances should reduce, and gradually eliminate, the challenge of COVID-19, we cannot lose sight of the other challenges we face. Key amongst these is the climate emergency.

Throughout the pandemic, we were annoyed that we had to wear masks and experience social distancing. If we do not combat climate change, the trials of 2020 will appear minor. Severe storms, rising seas, droughts and fires, besides the inexorable extinction of many species, will reduce our islands from a jewel to a veritable desert.

2021 should be the first year of our gradual transformation. We have to change our behaviour to limit our impact on the environment. COVID-19 showed us that when we act in unison, even relatively small changes can end up making us all safe. The climate emergency requires us to do the same.

The pandemic has also made it clear that having good, well-resourced public services is key. Imagine what would have happened if our public health system was not free and did not have all the resources it needed. We would have seen income inequality being reflected most starkly also in health inequality.

Imagine if instead of helping firms actively, Government had simply stepped aside. How many firms would have survived? How many livelihoods would have disappeared? And yet, thousands every year step aside when asked to pay their dues to society. They invent all excuses to justify why they do not pay their adequate share.

2020 showed us the State is not an abstract thing. It is our strongest line of defence. By grouping our individual strength, it makes us unbeatable. We have to make sure that we keep it as well-resourced as possible and together rebuild its financial strength.

The third ray of light that I hope will stay with us in 2021 is that of greater communal engagement. Deprived from the materialistic rush that characterised our typical day, many of us focused once again on our immediate community. We understood better the struggles and challenges faced by some of those around us, those suffering from domestic abuse, from loneliness, from material poverty. My hope is that the energy that was directed towards our communities maintains momentum.

Our society has withstood this greatest of tests. We did not let adversity engulf us.

A light is springing from the shadows. Let us use it to shine a new and better path.

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