Malta has shut down. Non-essential shops and services were made to close this morning, the latest in a line of drastic but necessary measures rolled out by the government to combat a major COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Streets usually flooded with people have become ghost towns. We’ve retreated indoors while many are in mandatory quarantine on the threat of a €3,000 fine.
We’re facing massive restrictions. Flights have closed as have bars, restaurants, gyms, and the like. More will follow, while the number of cases grow. However, with no indication as to when this will be over, someone has to ask:
How or when are we going to be able to return to normality?
There is no doubt that everyone’s health should be the absolute priority, but a complete or partial shutdown is not sustainable and causes irreversible societal and economic change.
It’s been just over two weeks since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Malta and businesses are already on the brink. At the same time, government measures have done little to curb an incoming wave of mass unemployment.
The virus is spreading uncontrollably, but a significant economic downturn could have devastating effects on the globe that will take decades to repair.
Rising unemployment and a major drop in social benefits will create massive challenges, whether that’s an increase in crime or mental health issues. Far more lives could be ruined or even lost because of these measures.
For the time being, drastic measures mean that the number of cases should drop in the coming weeks. But make no mistake about it, once restrictions are lifted, cases will likely grow once again.
There is no vaccine for COVID-19, much like the common cold. Governments across the globe have fast-tracked research. However, any possible vaccine is still at least a year away. Developing treatments would help, but the world doesn’t seem to be there yet.
A cure might never be found. The bubonic plague, which claimed over 50 million lives during the Black Death, is still around today with roughly 600 cases across the globe every year.
Natural immunity for people infected by the virus doesn’t seem to be taking hold. There have been several recovered patients who have contracted the virus. This could take up two years of persistent outbreaks to take form.
Just look at other coronaviruses like the common cold. There is no vaccine for the virus, and people catch it multiple times in their lifetime.
For now, it seems that the government is purely focused on keeping cases in hospital low and understandably so.
The ever increasing international death toll does not necessarily say that the virus is particularly lethal, but instead speaks to the fatal consequences of an out of control outbreak on an over-burdened healthcare system.
However, it is only the measures that are keeping the virus at bay. People are calling for a national lockdown, but will these severe restrictions be in place until a vaccine or treatment is found?
Or will we simply run on a cycle of lifting measures when numbers drop, only to reimpose them once cases inevitably rise?
The efforts of authorities and the entire healthcare sector to combat COVID-19 is rightly being praised. However, this will not change the stark reality moving forward. Government and individuals will have to show the same resilience, discipline, and grit to get through what comes next.
A solution might be to create a hospital dedicated to handling the cases. This would allow governments to at least manage any potential outbreaks and reduce any significant burden on Mater Dei. The St Luke’s and Karin Grech Hospitals were once able to cater to the entire nation. If only we hadn’t sold them off to a private investor.
Another could be providing a massive stimulus package to businesses that will sustain them for the next 12 to 18 months while the nation remains on partial lockdown in place of a cure. We’ve sold our power plants, citizenship, land, and hospitals. Where the hell did those funds and the surplus go?
Maybe our Prime Minister would be better off imposing the burden on the civil sector, including his own cabinet members.
A 10% pay reduction for any civil servant earning above €40,000, like the cabinet and the many CEOs, Chairmans, and Persons of Trust, which is funnelled towards wages in the private sector could help.
Questions must also be asked as to what the government’s future plans will be for a major outbreak. COVID-19 spread like wildfire across six continents. The majority of cases are in good condition, but our initial response was weak. With a more fatal illness, like ebola or the plague, we will not be so lucky.
Whatever the answer, the question will remain. With the government merely focusing on the present, what are their plans for the future and beyond?