So now it’s official: you can ‘break quarantine’… but only to vote

I don’t know. Call me a pessimist as much as you like… but maybe those ‘Kaiser Chiefs’ were actually on to something, with that 2005 hit single of theirs. ‘Nuff said

Ok, let me get this straight. The COVID-19 pandemic first hit Malta in Marcwwh 2020 – that’s coming up to two years already, folks – and I imagine you won’t exactly need me to go into all the details of precisely how this ongoing health crisis has impacted (not to say ‘devastated’) our daily lives.

To put it as mildly as I possibly can – and yes: even just to blow off a little steam, after weeks of near-total (and purely precautionary) ‘self-isolation’ – this whole COVID business has been nothing but a f***ing nightmare, from start to….

Well, there you go already: I was about to say ‘finish’, of course… but there’s no sign of that happening any time soon, is there? Meanwhile, this virus has run amok for two whole years… killing people; driving people to despair; wrecking businesses and livelihoods… and in a nutshell, it has forced every single of us to make enormous (and often very painful) personal ‘sacrifices’ of our own.

And – not counting a very small minority of COVID-19 (and/or vaccination) sceptics out there – most, if not all of us have simply bowed our heads to the sheer necessity of all those sacrifices… without (to date, at least) ever complaining too loudly.

Please note, however, that this has so far been the case here in Malta. There are certain other European member states, where similar situations have already resulted in full-scale rioting.... and this is probably because (let’s face it) there is always going to be limit to how much people are willing to actually put up with, before eventually exploding into violence (and sorry folks: but that’s a Universal Law of Sociology that not even Malta – ‘exceptional’ though we think we are – can remain immune to forever…)

So yes: these last two years have indeed been truly horrendous, for all the above reasons… but at the same time, they have also given us a good, solid foundation of experience, upon which to plan for the future.

To put that into some kind of context: we have had almost exactly as long as Alfred Sant had, as Prime Minister of this country – 22 months – to prepare for the (very predictable) crisis we find ourselves in today.

And throughout all this time, we have also been keenly aware that a General Election would have to be held at some point before June 2013 (i.e., when the probability of yet another emergency was always going to be rather high...)

And yet: it was only in October 2020 (i.e., a good 18 months into the crisis) that the Electoral Commission announced that it was ‘drafting COVID-19 election protocols’; even though, to the best of my knowledge, these ‘protocols’ have still not been finalized… less than six months away from the latest date this election can possibly be held.

Meanwhile, it was only last Friday – by an overwhelming coincidence, right after Arnold Cassola had written to the European Commission, to complain about the very same issue – that the Electoral Commission suddenly unveiled its ‘contingency plans’ for election day itself: specifically (and ‘exclusively’) for those voters who happen to be in quarantine.

Hmmm. Not to sound suspicious, or anything… but if the timing wasn’t already proof enough, that this plan was actually ‘pulled out of a hat’ right there, on the spur of the moment (and even then: only because the Commission was evidently jolted out of its deep slumber, by Cassola’s very public reminder that… how can I put this?... “Isn’t there a rather important job you guys should be doing right now? Like, um, figuring out how an election can even be held at all… at a time when the entire country is ravaged by disease?’)

But if the timing alone wasn’t proof enough for… well, there’s also the contents of the plan itself. This, for instance, is how it was reported last Friday:

“Drive-through polling booths are being contemplated to allow people positive for COVID-19 to vote in the next general election. [These] could be a workable solution for all those in quarantine during the election. ‘We are trying to give every eligible voter the chance to cast their ballot, even if they have contracted COVID-19’….”

Erm… tell you what, let me repeat that slowly. The Electoral Commission, it seems, wants to find  a ‘workable solution for ALL [my emphasis] those in quarantine’; so as to make sure that ‘EVERY eligible voter’ [ditto] gets to freely vote, without any form of discrimination whatsoever…

So what did they do? Simple: they came up with a system which caters only for those ‘eligible, quarantined voters’ who happen to possess (or have access to) a functional automobile of their own…

…you know: just to make damn sure that we introduce a whole new, entirely pointless form of political discrimination… this time, between ‘voters who own their own cars’, and ‘voters who don’t’. (I mean, seriously guys… you didn’t think this through at all, did you?)

But much more calamitously: it is also a system that allows ‘quarantined voters’ – i.e., the ones who would actually be carrying the virus, and thus perfectly capable of transmitting it to others – to simply ‘break quarantine’: in other words, to commit a crime for which they would otherwise be liable to an on-the-spot €10,000 fine (as well as, in centuries gone by, the possibility of SUMMARY EXECUTION)… but only, and exclusively, for the purposes of voting in an election.

Yikes! Sorry to have to ask, but… what was the Electoral Commission even thinking there? Did it not occur to them that this is precisely the sort of thing that has been known to cause riots – and other forms of violent social unrest – in other countries?

Because let’s face it: if it’s suddenly ‘OK’ for Omicron-carriers to emerge from the confines of their quarantine, just for the sake of voting in an election… why shouldn’t it be allowed for other, equally weighty purposes… such as, for instance, to do their weekly shopping?

I stand to be corrected, of course (never shop in any of those places myself, you see), but I am told that there are supermarkets, in this country, that likewise offer ‘drive-in’ services to their customers. And if such arrangements are indeed possible, in the case of an election… why not extend the same privilege to supermarkets: or indeed anywhere else, for that matter?

Heck, by the same reasoning… if people can suddenly ‘break quarantine’ to go and vote… why not to buy a Big Mac or Happy Meal from the McDonalds on the Tal-Balal Road? They have a drive-in service too, you know; and it would be every inch as ‘safe’ and ‘protected’, as voting at a drive-through polling booth… not to mention that, from the point of view of the quarantined voters themselves: what’s actually more important, anyway?

The ability to ‘go out and vote’, once every five years… or the ability to actually eat something, every once in a while? (Without, I might add, having to depend on others to deliver the food directly to your door?)

It’s a no-brainer, as far as I can see. But then again, it is – or should be – a pretty pointless question to even ask at all: because either way, it would still boil down to ‘breaking quarantine’; and as such, it would still defeat the whole point of even having quarantine procedures in the first place…

Meanwhile, there is other teenie-weenie little problem: the same system is only applicable to the estimated 30-40,000 voters who are likely to be in quarantine on that day. It entirely overlooks the existence of around 90% of the rest of the electorate – i.e., somewhere around 300, 000 voters – who will NOT be in quarantine… and those people, it seems, have been left to vote under the same old, ‘business as usual’ circumstances we have always been used to (in other words: for all the world as though there isn’t actually a health crisis going on right now in Malta…. at all).

We all know what that means, in practice: first, they must queue up for hours outside a crowded polling station: only to eventually enter a tiny, enclosed cubicle, where they will breathe the same air... sit at the same table… heck, even use the same flipping pencil, for crying out loud… as literally thousands of other voters before them: any one of whom could conceivably have been carrying – and transmitting – the Omicron virus...

So… what sort of ‘protocols’ has the Electoral Commission devised, exactly, for all those thousands of voters? What measures will be in place in (or around) the polling stations themselves… for instance, to minimise the possibility of what will otherwise be an unavoidable ‘post-electoral surge’?

The short answer, it seems, is… absolutely zilch. And what do you know? It takes us back to precisely that same old underlying injustice that causes riots in other countries: you know, the same old double-standards, whereby some people who depend on crowd-events – artists, musicians, party-organisers, Carnival enthusiasts, etc. – are all forced to make huge sacrifices of their own (often to the extent of renouncing their own income in the process)…

… while the same concerns are not allowed to even remotely disrupt the unfolding of the single greatest – and certainly the most gregarious – ‘Carnival’ of them all: General Elections 2022…

I don’t know. Call me a pessimist as much as you like… but maybe those ‘Kaiser Chiefs’ were actually on to something, with that 2005 hit single of theirs. ‘Nuff said…