Zero cases? Beach party for my friends, we’ll lick the seafront clean!

The Skinny • No. 31 | The Unberable Lightness of Low COVID cases

Don’t say: “On the day that zero cases are reported I am organising a massive beach party and inviting all my friends! We will end the evening by licking the seafront clean.”
Don’t say: “On the day that zero cases are reported I am organising a massive beach party and inviting all my friends! We will end the evening by licking the seafront clean.”

What are we skinning? Malta’s relatively low COVID-19 cases over the past couple of weeks.

Why are we skinning them? Partly because the other bit of news relates to migrant deaths at sea, and we’ve already tackled death last week, in what turned out to sadly have been a bit of a premature time to make a point out of this universal calamity. But this week’s subject not only offers a chance at more tasteful levity, but also perhaps some meaningful soul-searching, such as it is.

Soul searching? Yes: all of this can get us thinking about Malta, the Maltese and the way they respond to the pandemic and heed to the advice of health authorities, or fail to do so.

But low rates of infection are something to be cautiously optimistic about. Why make a song and dance over it? It’s not so much as making a song and dance, it’s just a matter of observing the islanders’ behaviour during a time when everything is changed, and is being tested.

That’s true the world over, though. Trump has threatened to cut funding to WHO just because they bruised his ego, which comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody. Yes, but there you have it. I’d argue that in the case of Prime Minister Robert Abela – who ran on the ‘continuity’ ticket during his leadership campaign – we also find some unsurprising responses: characterising total lockdown as ‘house arrest’, and jumping on the normalisation bandwagon the second the daily rates began to hit single digits.

You could say that after ‘continuity’, ‘normality’ is his new catchphrase. Yes, he appears to be keen to serve as a calming presence. Before the pandemic this was about absorbing the damage of the political crisis, now it’s about reassuring the population that the current government will let them get back to their normal lives relatively unscathed once all of this blows over.

I don’t know about you, but I find Prof Charmaine Gauci more of a ‘calming’ presence than the lawyer-y slickness of a Robert Abela. There’s something to that, yes. To say nothing of an authoritarian trigger-finger creeping through Abela’s modus operandi at times.

How do you mean? Abela had mentioned an increase of patrolling police officers as one of the first points of order to be taken care of after COVID-related restrictions are lifted, which suggests a particular thirst for performative ‘discipline’ to the former bodybuilder that may belie his otherwise placating exterior.

Yeah, it makes you think about who really has our best interests at heart. Once again, it’s the distinction between well-meaning technocrats and rhetoric-trained, ambitious politicians, a divide that is very much felt in the Charmaine Gauci/Robert Abela dichotomy. One is urging us to make sacrifices, the other is promising us treats at the end of the tunnel. Let’s hope the bulk of us don’t rush towards those treats before the appointed time.

Do say: “While we should feel glad that Malta’s COVID-19 ‘caseload’ remains on the low side, and that we’re also seeing a high-enough number of recoveries being reported, vigilance remains key, and any calls to ‘returning back to normal’ need to be tempered with the realisation that the numbers are only low because social distancing measures are by and large being observed.”

Don’t say: “On the day that zero cases are reported I am organising a massive beach party and inviting all my friends! We will end the evening by licking the seafront clean.”

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