Reopening in safety

Updated on

There is a deep and ongoing debate in our country as well as in practically every country about the tempo and modality of reopening of sectors of the economy which had been closed because of the Covid pandemic.

One can read about aspects of this debate in this issue. On the one hand, the great majority of our people, especially the elderly and the infirm, obeyed the rules and advice of the health authorities until they saw how many others were going to the beach and in general enjoying themselves. Many stayed in but many others were tempted and followed suit, especially when they perceived the low level of enforcement by the authorities.

On the other hand, many places of work either stopped working or else heavily reduced their operations. Fear kept many indoors and many lost their jobs. Help was forthcoming from the government and other sources but it was necessarily small and geared to mere survival. And anyone readily understands this is a temporary band-aid and cannot be prolonged over a long period of time.

Meanwhile other countries were coming out of the lockdown and we could compare and contrast.

The first easing of the strict rules came about and shops reopened. Not surprisingly, few were those bold enough to venture and many retailers were heard to grumble their situation was even worse than before for now they have to take into account not just the rent but also operational expenses.

As regards the health angle, the number of infected persons, long flat and low, began to rise inexorably. Wards at Mater Dei had to be thoroughly cleaned after they became virus hotspots. Almost 300 healthcare workers have had to be quarantined.

The question now is whether this spike is the feared second wave or the result of the first easing. The health authorities say it is only the result of increased testing.

An even more cogent question is whether in these circumstances, the second easing was justified. As other countries can tell us, the second spike or wave can be devastating, leaving robust health systems reeling and collapsing.

The details of the second easing then are problematic: how will restaurants be re-configured to ensure a healthy environment? How will hairdressers obey the rules?

We say this even as it’s clear that the rules of the first easing have been largely disregarded, such as people allowed on buses without facemasks, people gathering with no social distancing, etc. How can people trust in any second easing when there are those who are already skipping ahead to the third or fourth easing?

Reopening the airport is clearly important for the whole country but clearly it poses risks that many are not prepared to pass considering the way the first and second easing are being done. On the other hand, no amount of local people enjoying a holiday in the hotels can ever make up for the missing tourists.

The virus is still with us as is concern whether we are winning this war. At the end, the Maltese public will be the final arbiter of the effectiveness of the anti-virus battle and of those who are leading us.