The true meaning of Covid-19 apartheid in Malta

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Dr Anthony Buttigieg is a full-time Medical Doctor working with the St. James Hospital Group. He is the former leader of Partit Demokratiku.

The new spike of Covid-19 infections in the last week has emphasised the sad reality that Covid-19 will not be easily defeated and that we will have to adapt our lifestyles and how we manage our country to work around it. After a period of very few daily infections and with the number of active cases diminishing daily to the point where we barely had 20 in the country, we were beginning to see our country open up again, with economic activity on the rise.

The fact that this is no longer the case does not mean we have to go back to the situation we were in a few weeks ago, with partial lockdown and all hospitality, catering, and entertainment activity severely curtailed. One of the primary reasons for this is that the percentage of people who are fully vaccinated is continuously on the rise.

There is a cohort of people out there, however, who are not vaccinated, not because they are unable to for medical reasons, not because they could not do so as they do not possess a valid ID card (even that changes from July 19th where anyone with any form of identity document and proof of residency can simply walk in to a vaccination centre and get the jab) but because they simple do not want to.

The measures announced by the government this week may regarding criteria to enter Malta may sound harsh, but ironically may help tourism and all the other industries reliant on it, rather than destroy them. The pathway we were stumbling down would have only ended up with us being red-listed by all our tourism markets; we may be able to avoid that. There will be as many tourists choosing Malta, knowing we are taking the situation seriously, as there will be others put off by the measures.

The last few days, I have heard the phrase Covid Apartheid bandied about a lot after Chris Fearne’s announcement. People who are not vaccinated think they have been discriminated against. Let us think about that.

The definition of apartheid is ‘any system or practise that separates people according to colour, ethnicity, caste, etc.’.

Those who choose not to have the vaccine are free to roam and integrate into Maltese society, work, socialise, meet their loved ones and do whatever they like. And yes, they can travel if they are residents in Malta, but must accept 14 days quarantine on coming back. As must incoming visitors who likewise are not fully vaccinated.

In the last year and more, many vulnerable people, young and old, have been excluded from doing the same. Thousands became prisoners in their homes. Unable to go out as it was too dangerous. There are still many who will once again be put back into that unpleasant situation as they form part of the group who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Thousands of the elderly were practically prisoners in older people’s homes, unable to receive visitors. Hundreds of them have died from whatever cause without the comfort of the last goodbye from their loved ones. Their relatives and friends have been denied the right to a decent goodbye and proper closure. Hundreds of vulnerable children have been excluded from interaction with their peers and have seen their intellectual and social development stunted.

The current spike in cases will get a lot worse before it gets better and could condemn them to re-live that nightmare.

In the past year, all of them have experienced a form of social apartheid due to no fault of their own.

Getting vaccinated against Covid-19 may not eliminate transmission to others, but it certainly reduces it. Getting vaccinated greatly reduces the chance of serious illness, reducing the burden on our health services and health workers. Get vaccinated, not for yourselves, but for them and the vulnerable.

And if you are not of a mind to do so, accept the relatively minor inconvenience your decision will create.

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