Year of the Vaccine...

If   people  now  object  to  face-masks,  it  is  only  because  the  ‘protection’  these  things  supposedly  afford  –  whatever that may actually translate into, in practice – is simply no longer worth all the nuisance and bother  of  actually  having  to  wear  one. 

It's that   time   of   year   again,   when   newspapers   and   media   outlets  desperately  scramble  to  identify  a  single  issue  that  can  somehow ‘sum up’ the events of the past 365-and-a-quarter days.

As you’d expect, however: it isn’t exactly  easy.  Not  only  must  the  chosen issue be impactful enough, to  somehow  influence  (if  not  actually  shape)  how  we  will  all  later  look back on that particular year...... but it also has to have a certain ‘oomph’ to it, too; at least, enough to make for a punchy headline...

And  let’s  face  it:  a  lot  happened  this  year,  that  might  conceivably  qualify.  (Note:  my  own  choice  is  already  right  there,  in  the  headline;  but  bear  with  me  while  I  get  at least one other contender out of the way first.)

For  instance:  2021  seems  to  be  ending  on  a  particularly  inauspicious  note  for  Robert  Abela’s  Labour  government.  Having  more  or  less  started  with  (yet  another)  controversy     surrounding     Rosianne Cutajar: for which, the junior  minister  resigned  in  disgrace  last February....

... it will now end barely a week after   another   two   highprofile   resignations: first Labour MP Silvio  Grech,  over  his  involvement  in   a   police   investigation;   then   later – and, it must be said, much more   tortuously   –   Education   Minister  Justyne  Caruana:  over  what seems to be an entirely analogous  scandal  to  Cutajar’s  (also  involving   ‘nepotism’,   ‘unethical   practices’,   ‘damning   Standards   Commissioner  reports’,  and  all  the rest.)

Now: it would, of course, be absurd  to  propose  any  one  of  those  resignations – or even all of them put  together  –  as  ‘worthy  contenders’,  in  their  own  right.  For  one thing... how do you even condense  all  that  into  a  single,  snappy  phrase,  anyway?  The  closest  I  could  come  up  with  was:  ‘Year  of  Standards in Public Life’ (but let’s face it: it’s a little... yucky).

A  much  more  accurate  –  but  hopelessly  impractical  –  version  would  be:  Year  of  the  Maltese  Politicians  who  suddenly  awoke  to   the   long-overdue   realisation   that:  “Ooh,  guess  what?  Maybe  ‘being  a  Member  of  Parliament’  doesn’t  actually  mean  ‘being  God  Almighty’,  after  all.  Maybe  there  really  ARE  consequences  –  and  pretty serious ones, too!  to all our actions and decisions... etc., etc.’

See what I mean? It’s all perfectly true. For let’s be honest: we are much  more  accustomed  to  the  sight of ministers (and ‘magisters’) clinging to their positions by their fingernails...    and    leaving    long    scratchmarks   behind   them,   as   they are forcibly dragged away...

But  that  is  something  Rosianne  Cutajar never really did, this time round;  and  –  much  more  pertinently  –  it  is  something  Justyne  Caruana  TRIED  to  do...  but  very  evidently, failed.

All  the  same,  though...  not  exactly   very   ‘punchy’,   is   it?   And   besides:  even  if  ‘ministerial  resignations’  (to  call  the  issue  by  its  spectacularly  boring  name)  really  did strike a serious blow to Robert Abela’s previously smug and complacent stranglehold over political power,  throughout  the  course  of  2021...  is  hardly  ever  going  to  be  ever looked back upon as the single, most pivotal issue of the entire year.

Except,  perhaps,  in  one  sense  only.  For  though  we  have  occasionally seen political resignations before:  and  at  much  higher  levels,  too  (For  some  reason,  a  certain  ‘Muscat,  Joseph’  springs  to  mind)...

...I  don’t  recall  that  many  previous years when there were three of  them  in  quick  succession;  and  each  one  prompted  by  either  a  report by the Standards Commissioner  (which,  in  any  case,  never  really  existed  before  2020....),  or  by  an  investigation  involving  some other authority, which is (or is supposed to be) independent of government...

So  you  could,  I  suppose,  argue  that   2021   really   was   ‘transformational’,   in   a   sense.   It   might   not  have  quite  been  as  dramatic  or  earth-shattering  as  other  recent  events  –  and  I’m  coming  to  one  example  in  just  a  sec  –  but  there  has  undeniably  been  a  ‘sea-change’ in this country, of sorts... regarding: a) how we perceive politicians,  and;  b)  how  politicians  perceive themselves.

It   might   not   have   started   in   2021, perhaps; but you could certainly  make  the  case  that  it  came  to  full  fruition  this  year.  And  yes,  why not? Looking back, we might even one day even regard 2021 as something  of  a  ‘turning  point’...  a  year  in  which  independent  authorities such as the Commission for  Standards  In  Public  Life  (and  everything  they  represent)  finally  did  what  certain  ‘talking  trees’  had  once  done,  in  certain  fantasy  novels...

‘They awoke, and found that they were strong...’

But...  Nah!  What  was  I  even  thinking?   Too   trite,   too   corny,   too  ‘reach-for-the-bucket-under-your-seat’...  and  above  all,  WAY  too early to tell if this trend is even going to last just a few minutes beyond 2022 (when, as we all know, there will be an election)...

No: much safer – and more accurate – to go with the obvious contender:  ‘Year  of  the  Vaccine’.  Not  only  did  the  roll-out  itself  hog  all  the headlines (both locally, and internationally),  on  account  of  having  reached  a  scarcely-even-plausible 98% of the population (which separately means the vaccine has, quite  literally,  ‘injected’  its  own  significance into almost every single one of us, individually...)

...but  while  the  vaccination  issue  remained  at  the  very  top  of  the  national  agenda,  pretty  much  throughout  2021:  I  find  it  significant  that  the  same  cannot  really  be  said  for  either  the  Covid-19  pandemic   itself...   or   even   the   more recent fears surrounding its variant, Omicron.

Come  to  think  of  it,  I  only  remember   two   specific   occasions   this  year,  where  the  virus  itself  suddenly shot back up to number one concern. The first was a wave of   national   panic   around   Mid-March,  when  daily  figures  hit  the  500-mark for the first time ever... and a second was an almost identical  wave  just  literally  last  week  (when  the  same  thing  happened  again:  this  time,  with  even  higher  numbers).

In  between,  however,  there  was  a period lasting from around mid-June,  to  early  December,  when  neither  Covid-19,  nor  any  of  its  mutations,   could   even   be   described as a ‘major public concern’ at all.

This can even be attested by our own,   wildly   contradictory   reactions  to  all  the  health  measures  that  were  imposed  on  both  those  occasions.

Last  March,  for  instance,  Chris  Fearne   and   (especially)   Robert   Abela  were  on  the  receiving  end  of almost-universal criticism, over their  woeful  mishandling  of  that  first  post-Christmas  surge.  (And  quite  rightly,  too:  for  they  had  both  made  the  same  tragic  mistake   of   pre-emptively   declaring   ‘victory’ over the pandemic... long before  the  vaccine  was  available;  and  when,  in  any  case,  nobody  had  ever  bothered  informing  the  virus itself that it had been... um... ‘defeated’.)

But  that  takes  us  all  the  way  back  to  summer  of  2020.  The  cause  for  criticism  last  March,  on the other hand, was that government was still reluctant to introduce any of the more ‘drastic’ measures demanded by the public: including the closure of bars and  restaurants;  the  banning  of  all  public  mass-activities,  and  –  not  least  -  the  mandatory  wearing of masks.

Fast-forward to December 2021, however,  and...  oh  look.  Fearne  and  Abela  now  find  themselves  under  fire  for  the  very  opposite  reason:  i.e.,  because  they  are  now taking  the  recent  surge  so  very  much  more  seriously,  that  they  are   introducing...   erm...   ‘more   drastic  measures’,  including  the  ‘mandatory wearing of masks’...

Now:  I  could,  of  course,  waste  what  little  remains  of  the  year  by  pointing  out  the  glaring  political  double-standards,   right   there...   in  fact,  it  even  crossed  my  mind  to  dub  2021  the  ‘Year  of  U-turns’  (but then again: couldn’t the same be  said  for  every...  single...  other... year?)

But  I  won’t  bother  for  another  reason: which has a lot to do with that lengthy spell in which nobody seemed all that very anxious about COVID-19 at all.

When    you    stop    and    think    about  it,  for  a  moment:  why  do  so  many  people  suddenly  oppose  mask-wearing, today... when, just eight or months ago, many of the same  people  were  stamping  their  feet,  and  demanding  the  same  –  nay,  even  more  stringent  impositions  (including,  believe  it  or  not,  another lockdown)?

What  has  actually  changed,  between  now  and  last  March,  to  make  so  many  people  suddenly  look  at  the  same  measure  as...  ‘disproportionate’?

Well, the last word gives us all a very  indicative  hint.  ‘Disproportionate’  to  what,  exactly?  In  this  context,  it  can  only  mean  to  one  thing:  the  threat  posed  the  virus  itself.

And   from   that   perspective:   if   people  now  object  to  face-masks,  it  is  only  because  the  ‘protection’  these  things  supposedly  afford  –  whatever that may actually translate into, in practice – is simply no longer worth all the nuisance and bother  of  actually  having  to  wear  one. 

Only  one  thing  could  possibly  have  endowed  us  with  such  an  extraordinary  (and  possibly  misplaced)   ‘booster’   of   confidence,   in such a short time; and surely, it must  be  the  same  thing  that  also  caused our rate of COVID hospitalization – not to mention COVID  deaths  -  to  remain  far  more  stable today, than they were eight or  nine  months  ago;  with  the  result that, while more people seem to  be  contracting  the  virus  today;  a  far  smaller  percentage  of  them  ends up needing emergency treatment...

Well,  do  I  even  need  to  go  on?  That    is    EXACTLY    what    the    much-maligned Covid-19 vaccine had  all  along  set  out  to  achieve.  Not to ‘win the war on Covid’ (or anything  so  hopelessly  naïve  as  that)...  but  just  to  make  it  a  little  easier  to  fight  the  individual  battles, on a day-by-day basis.

Honestly,  you  couldn’t  even  ask  for  a  more  successful  outcome,  really...  especially  when  you  also  consider what today’s hospital statistics  might  have  been  like,  had  the roll-out not been so extensive (or  –  worse  still  –  had  there  not  been any vaccine at all...).