It is easy for public outrage to turn onto the Floriana FC fans celebrating their club winning the Premier League title for their complete disregard of social distancing but the situation was created by mixed messages from the authorities who have to shoulder responsibility in this pandemic, according to a sociology professor.
Andrew Azzopardi, Dean of for the Faculty of Social Wellbeing at the University of Malta, took a step back from the footage of screaming fans to give a broader picture about the reasons why hundreds of people completely ignored the health authorities’ constant warnings to stay away from crowds.
“Clearly this is symptomatic of people who are made to think and believe that the pandemic is over. They feel that it’s ok to celebrate because Malta is in the clear. This is the message that the government is giving at the moment,” Azzopardi told The Shift.
The club was given the championship title after 27 years. The Malta Football Association decided to announce the result after this year’s league was put on hold three months ago because of the pandemic.
As hundreds of people dressed in green celebrated in street parties, the rest of the island watched in horror and anger at the complete disregard of social distancing rules or the use of protective equipment.
Azzopardi pointed out that it was understandable that the club supporters wanted to celebrate – especially because they had waited 27 years for the title.
However, this would not have happened if the MFA had taken a decision before a recent press conference by the Prime Minister lifting COVID-19 precautionary measures. The fans would not have flocked in their hundreds to the streets of Floriana, he said.
“There is also an element of egoism as well. I understand everyone has the right to have fun and celebrate, but there’s a limit.”
While understanding the “devil of the economy”, Azzopardi said the authorities had to give a clear message.
“There’s lots of talk about the waves in the sea and that it looks like everything is over. They want the public to feel that the crisis is over. The government needs to be consistent. Otherwise, the biggest responsibility for events like this one lies with the unclear messages by the authorities,” he said.
It is easy to see where these mixed messages came from. As the health authorities were urging people to stay inside, wear a mask when going out and keep a personal space of two metres, government officials, including the prime minister and public officials regularly appeared in public breaching these rules.
The scenes on the Granaries also shocked Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci who urged all those present to get tested for coronavirus. Medical professionals turned to social media in anger, saying that what happened was an insult to all those working on the frontline in this pandemic.
All these celebrations took place within a stone’s throw of the police headquarters in Floriana. And while images on social media show police officers on site, it seems very little was done to stop the crowds.
The lack of immediate action by the local police force did not go unnoticed and was captured in an 11-second video that went viral on social media. In a split screen, one can see Floriana supporters in a crowd and a Maltese police officer round the corner dancing to a Tiktok video. (It is not clear the two events occurred at the same time).
It seems that this video irked the police force as a number of Facebook groups pointed out that they had been contacted by the police and asked to take it down.
Given the circumstances, Floriana club officials should have prepared a contingency plan for the gathering crowds, Azzopardi said.
But Floriana FC general secretary Dione Borg insisted it was a spontaneous event: “If it were something organised we would have had carcades and the usual.”
Asked if the club had made any plans just in case there was a huge gathering, Borg said the club did not have the resources to plan to control such crowds.
“We simply abided by the instructions of the police. The moment they told us to calm things down, we did our best to spread the word with the crowd,” he said.