On Thursday afternoon, a hearse carrying the body of Charles Camilleri, one of Malta’s most recent COVID-19 victims, drove through the streets of Santa Venera.
Residents clapped and threw flowers on the car, a powerful sendoff to a man who had spent four legislatures in their town’s local council and was a beloved figure in the community.
From her balcony, Charles’ daughter Corinne filmed the hearse as her children and mother wailed and futilely pleaded for it not to drive him away. As the hearse drove her father to his final resting place, Corinne could only watch helplessly, stuck as she was in her home after testing positive for COVID-19.
“I tested positive for COVID-19 on 10th October,” Corinne recounted to Lovin Malta. “I didn’t feel any symptoms and I still don’t but I got myself swabbed a number of times as a precaution.”
Her mother tested positive for the virus that same day and her 82-year-old father two days later, developing a fever and a cough. He was sent to Mater Dei and five days later was feeling good enough to be discharged. However, he was sent to St Thomas Hospital rather than back home because his wife was COVID-19 positive.
“We were communicating with him through Skype and he seemed alright,” Corinne said.
However, Charles’ condition took a turn for the worse and he was rushed back to Mater Dei.
“The hospital told my sister he only had a few hours left and she begged them to at least our mother inside, in a Hazmat suit if needs be, but we weren’t allowed because she was COVID-19 positive.”
“My sister was in quarantine but her partner was allowed to visit my dad. My sister’s children accompanied him but only one person was allowed inside. They weren’t even allowed to see their grandfather one last time from behind a glass door looking into his room.”
In desperation, the family reached out to Health Minister Chris Fearne to intervene but by the time he got back to them, Charles had passed away.
In a statement, the Health Ministry said Charles had “underlying health conditions” but Corinne said her father was stable before he got infected with the virus.
“He died of COVID-19, I don’t know why they’re hiding this from everyone, he’s just another number to them.”
As per Malta’s COVID-19 rules, the family had 24 hours to organise a funeral, but none of Charles’ children could attend.
Corinne was COVID-19 positive, her brother and one of her sisters were in quarantine and her other sister, who lives in France, couldn’t return to Malta in time for the funeral.
She questioned why the health authorities didn’t even allow her to attend her father’s funeral under strict conditions, such as wearing a Hazmat suit, particularly seeing as they had earlier granted her special permission to leave her home to get her children tested.
“I wasn’t going to run around, I just wanted to drive to the cemetery and back, but the health authorities kept insisting that I had to stay at home,” she said. “Why did they allow me to leave my home to get my children tested but not allow me to give my father his final farewell? It’s not like I’m ever going to get another chance to see him laid to rest.”
“When his hearse passed by our home, we had to stay in our balcony and see his coffin covered in plastic lying in the hearse. My daughter kept asking me why we weren’t allowed to go down to see him… how do you respond to something like this?”
Corinne said the authorities should be “ashamed of themselves” for the way they treated her father and his family.
“My father was treated like an animal, if not even worse than one, and you can’t know what it’s like until it happens to you. We were given no dignity and I want justice done.”