On Palm Sunday, Prime Minister Robert Abela told people to go for a walk or a jog to keep fit, urging them not to spend the day inside. He made his appeal in a comment on the Labour Party’s TV station One, but it was obviously picked up by other newsrooms so the whole nation heard what he had to say.
Abela said that through its measures the government had reached a balance between containing the spread of coronavirus and allowing some freedom so people could take care of their physical and mental health.
He added that the situation was still under control and that he was satisfied with the low rate of cases on the increase. Ironically, this statement was made on the same day that Malta registered the highest number of new cases in the span of 24 hours and residents at the Ħal Far open centre were placed under mandatory quarantine after eight tested positive in the past three days.
Abela’s statement on Sunday undermined the authority of the Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci, just after the authorities announced a legal notice (rather late) declaring a public health emergency giving her wide-ranging powers to take all measures necessary to eliminate the threat of COVID-19.
Later that same afternoon, Gauci told everyone: “Stay in and stay safe. I know the weather is beautiful but my advice is to not go out.”
Abela effectively enacted a law only for him to decide when it’s ok to go against it – a pattern now all too familiar with this government.
On that same day, the government also decided that it was a good idea to open the spring hunting season so those going for a stroll could be joined by hunters in the countryside, just as the British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that exercise outdoors would be banned in the UK if too many people disobeyed the government’s instructions to stay home.
Abela is increasingly following in the footsteps of Donald Trump, putting both feet in his mouth. Trump had called coronavirus a hoax and disbanded the pandemic response team, letting the ‘Kung Flu’ virus spread unchecked across America. The world is now seeing the result of his decisions.
But what Abela is not realising is that he is playing Russian roulette with the lives of thousands of health workers who are doing their best under difficult circumstances to contain the spread of the virus. And why? Votes. It’s Machiavellian in its political opportunism.
And as the prime minister sent a message that the law could be bent according to his will by undermining the powers of the Superintendent of Public Health, he also said strengthening rule of law was still on the State’s agenda even though the government was prioritising public health due to coronavirus.
“As a lawyer, I’ve always believed in the rule of law, so having a strong rule of law comes naturally to me. We will close the chapter on the rule of law with success.”
Close the chapter? Abela has to act on the scandals he is still covering up for those who came before him and gave him his position. That chapter is far from closed.