Easing and opening

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 May, 2020 at 1:37 pm by Andre Camilleri

The airport’s website yesterday showed no less than four Air Malta flights scheduled to leave the island and the website Flight Radar 24 confirmed a very limited air traffic around the country all through the day.

Outside Malta, many countries are now speaking of opening the skies around the 15th June even though the pandemic has not been brought to a complete halt.

While our health authorities are understandably cautious to commit to a date, it is equally clear that once air traffic is allowed again in Europe, Malta cannot remain isolated.

There were times when Malta was indeed an island, cut off by the sea from both Sicily and Libya. Not any longer. Today even a moderate yacht can have supper in Pozzallo before returning to Malta.

So the easing and opening are coming, whether we like it or not, and they are coming in a matter of days. We had better prepare and get mitigation procedures in place before we find them upon us.

Till this moment we have heard nothing from the airline and the airport about what is being done to prepare for the changes that will be necessary.

With the first two stages of the easing, a certain amount of people have returned to work and a certain number of enterprises have reopened. Predictably, the results of the first days have been weak, especially with regards to retail outlets, more than in the case of restaurants, caught in the euphoria of the first weekend. One must realise that for the economy to return to full blast as it was before the pandemic, all the previous components of the economy must be in place – which is not the case so far.

The entire tourist sector, for example, is still shut and no amount of inland tourism can fill the empty hotels. The services sector too depends on an economy running at full blast.

The manufacturing sector is the sector that theoretically could remain running but then it depends on its markets continuing to buy our products and also on the availability of raw materials.

So too the construction sector could theoretically continue but it too depends on the state of the market when there is already an oversupply.

We still do not know the economic consequences of the pandemic, and it will be some months before we know.

The government has come up with multiple layers of help but what will happen once this temporary aid runs out? Will there be enterprises which will collapse once the temporary crutches of government help are withdrawn?

There will be opportunities, not just threats. We have seen new initiatives flourish during the Covid emergency and many have found ways to innovate and develop new revenue streams.

At the same time, however, the measures put in place because of the pandemic must remain and become more robust. We just cannot afford to lose what we have gained and all the hard work of the health officials.

We must also remember that our national economy is different from the big economies abroad not least because of the high profile of the State. Ironically that limits the amount of aid the government can give and also the contribution the private sector can give.

The crisis could have given us time to clean up the country but we see very little evidence of that. Now that the traffic is almost back to normal, an opportunity has been lost.

Finally, with schools having lost a whole year, we must make super -human efforts to catch up. It has been calculated, abroad, that online teaching did not quite work and that parents, pressed to be home teachers, soon gave up. But at least in many countries to the north, schools are restarting in these days and our children are once again the losers.

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