Similar to what we see in post-apocalyptic movies, the COVID-19 virus has brought to light humanity’s two extremes. On one side, there are those who are genuinely trying to help people get through this uncertain period, while others choose to discriminate and create divisions.
That’s what happening in Malta right now. There seem to be two major issues which arise with a country paralysed by quarantine – keeping oneself entertained if stuck indoors, and coping with financial difficulties which emerge when people simply cannot go out to work.
The COVID-19 has caused restaurants, bars, public entertainment spaces and schools to shut down. Understandably, people who need to go out to earn a living are seriously concerned. That is why an initiative by the employers of a hotel in Sliema that has invited its workers to stay at the hotel for free has brought some much needed warmth in these confusing times. The owners will not only be providing shelter but also provide two free meals a day, and it is one among a number of initiatives put forward by employers.
Others, a list of those at the top of the country’s business chain, are still demanding money from government before attempting to show solidarity with workers.
Schools have also been doing their best to keep a positive morale for those who are sitting at home. The Salesians School of St Patricks in Sliema has asked its students to read a story and share it online and dedicate it the elderly people who are alone at home. Countless photos of children holding messages of quotes painted over rainbows also emerged on social media.
Amid concerns that health workers at Mater Dei could potentially infect family members when returning home, a ray of hope emerged when a number of home owners offered their space for alternative lodging.
A Mater Dei health worker expressed his gratitude on social media, saying that despite the huge workload Mater Dei officials have coordinated these temporary arrangements to give priority to workers who have vulnerable family members at home. He was not only provided with free accommodation in an apartment but also welcomed with a box full of groceries.
Members of the public in different localities also took the initiative of boosting the morale of health care workers by clapping from their balconies and windows to applaud their commitment.
A number of restaurants and grocery shop owners have also started offering free delivery of supplies to people who are homebound. One particular supermarket heard concerns expressed and dedicated the hours between 7am – 9am exclusively for the elderly and the most vulnerable to get their shopping done.
These actions show that despite bringing the country to an almost complete halt, the crisis has brought out positive aspects in Maltese society. If only this were true of those in power supposed to lead by example.
In contrast to stories of love and kindness, the people in the administration seem intent on doing the opposite and causing unnecessary tension and divide. While there was endless praise for Charmaine Gauci, Superintendent of Public Health, who is coordinating health care services and keeping the public regularly informed, such positive efforts were undone by Economy Minister Silvio Schembri who declared in parliament that foreigners who lose their jobs during the COVID-19 crisis will have to “go back home”.
In surreal terminology, in which Schembri ironically uses a quote about charity, the Minister said:“Charity begins at home; our main focus is Maltese workers”. While The Shift absolutely condemns the Minister’s statement without reservation, his comment was met with sheer disbelief by the foreign community in Malta.
The Minister’s comment was met with harsh criticism. MEP Roberta Metsola said it was “cynical at a time when we need everyone on these Islands to push back against COVID19”. In a Facebook group called ‘Feel At Home’, hundreds of foreign workers expressed their disgust at Schembri’s comment. One particularly long and detailed post said that it’s times like these that Malta removes its mask.
Foreign nationals residing in Malta still had the heart to point out that Schembri’s comments did not reflect the sentiment all of Maltese.
“This doesn’t represent the Maltese as a nation. This is no rant about the Maltese. Never ever, as I know how incredibly helpful and lovely the people in my hood are – that’s why I feel like home in Malta, as I know that they would even share their last bit of ‘hobz’ (bread) with me in times like this.”
The Italian Chamber of Commerce issued a statement saying it was shocked by the Minister’s statement and “completely” dissociated itself from claims he made.
“We would like to remind the Minister that all expats in Malta have contributed and contribute every day to the success of the Maltese economy and to the well-being of all,” the Chamber said. It reminded the authorities that the virus does not discriminate between nationalities and that the government should do its best to think and protect everyone’s health.
According to the JobsPlus website the number of foreign workers by the end of 2018 amounted to over 55,000. 38% of the foreign workforce in Malta are Third Country Nationals.
Schembri has since apologised for his remarks.
We remind you that if you’re quarantined and need supplies, if you’re sick and need support, please contact The Shift and we will do our best to help you.