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L’état, c’est moi

Robert Abela
Malta Prime Minister Robert Abela.

The virus has been defeated and eradicated from our island, and there has been no second wave, the Prime Minister gloated on his Party’s TV station on Sunday as he announced the lifting of restrictions. Robert Abela isn’t content being king; Abela is playing god.

He announced an irresponsible decision against the advice of medical professionals – the gloomy predictions of the naysayers (a clear reference to the doctors’ association – the MAM, the nurses’ union – the MUMN, the Chamber of Pharmacists and a number of other unions).

Abela is being disingenuous. The virus has not been eradicated; it has been contained locally. In other countries, it is still wreaking havoc – in both Brazil and America, 1,000 people a day are still dying from the pandemic.

Health experts are in agreement that a second wave is highly probable. “The question is when and how big,” Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the EU agency responsible for advising governments on disease control, told The Guardian.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Prime Minister has consistently undermined warnings by the Public Health Department, just as he insisted on overriding its decisions to prioritise political and economic considerations.

The revelry by the Floriana FC supporters on the granaries celebrating their club ‘winning’ the Premier League title with complete disregard for social distancing was the result of mixed messages.

Health Minister Chris Fearne said in Parliament last month that the pandemic would continue to be a reality “until there is a vaccine that is reliable and administered to a substantial population.”

“It is useless to pretend that everything is back to normal. We must get used to living with the virus until the vaccine arrives,” he said.

To celebrate his ‘victory’, Abela wants to pardon those who broke the social distancing rules set by the Public Health Department intended to stop the spread of the outbreak. In doing so, he is endorsing the actions of those who endangered others. That includes himself, as he has openly shown a disregard for these rules on several occasions.

It’s also a certainty that in the eventuality of a second wave, any enforcement of rules will be impossible.

The so-called ‘amnesty’ for those caught infringing health rules sends a message that it’s ok to break the rules – the ones Abela decides can be broken for those who Abela decides deserve it. What a benevolent dictatorship.

If it the Prime Minister who decides what is a “genuine” mistake or breach – what’s to stop him from deciding who to pardon based on that now-famous database the Party keeps tracking the political preferences of every one of us?

He refers to “a mechanism” to decide who benefits from the amnesty – but a mechanism already exists as it does for all other penalties, such as traffic fines, where citizens have the option to contest the fine.

The police union was right to remind him in a statement on Sunday that it was their job to enforce the law and the court’s job to decide who is to be fined or pardoned.  That is what happens in a democracy.

Abela’s decision is an insult to many. It’s an insult to the policemen who risked their health to enforce restrictions, only for their work to be written off with a stroke of the Prime Minister’s pen.

It’s an insult to the sacrifice made by medical professionals. In an open letter to the Prime Minister on Sunday, the Association of Public Health Medicine slammed the “premature lifting of measures”.

“The public health authorities have consistently explained how only a gradual lifting of restrictive measures would safely transition the country to a new normal. Allowing three weeks to pass between each progressive step to observe the effects and adjust accordingly was, and remains, the only way to ensure that we do not end up right back where we started, or worse,” the association said, calling for the publication of the risk assessment the Prime Minister referred to but which remains secret.

It’s an insult to those who obeyed the rules, making sacrifices such as not seeing their elderly parents. It’s an insult to those who own businesses which had to close or may have to close down.

It’s an insult to those who went without an income or with a minimal income for weeks on end, and to those who lost their job. It’s an insult to parents who have had to keep on working while taking on a second job – that of homeschoolers.

It’s an insult to law-abiding citizens.

Andre Delicata is a qualified pharmacist who, like his colleagues, medical professionals and healthcare workers, risked his own health and sacrificed time with his family to help the nation deal with the virus. 

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