There is a level of incompetence that verges on the criminal and Robert Abela and Chris Fearne’s abysmal, own-goal handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is fast reaching that status.
The reckless re-opening of the country to hordes of young, unvaccinated, undisciplined language students with its inevitable, disastrous consequences, can only be described as monumentally stupid, conceived by the kind of people who think it’s clever to take Instagram selfies while planking off the edge of 700 metre cliffs.
As infections predictably soared, the backlash from a shocked population led to yet another episode of government by social media: the panicked, knee-jerk reversal and sudden imposition of onerous, immediate, and potentially illegal and discriminatory measures that are now creating even more chaos and confusion.
Like the violent pullback in the aftermath of a tsunami, it’s sucking in thousands of unaware innocents, people who followed all the guidelines, waited patiently and stoically, separated from family and friends for months, and finally, joyfully booked flights home. Only to find that overnight, everything’s fallen apart and their plans, their money and their hopes have been swept away like so much trash atop the receding surge.
Mistake upon mistake have characterised Prime Minister Abela and Health Minister Fearne’s decisions around the pandemic. Snakes and ladders PL style…climb up two rungs and then slide back 20. There’s been no planning, no consistency, no clarity. Across social media, the confusion and anxiety is off the scales.
No-one knows where they stand. No-one knows whether they’ll be able to travel on their booked dates or not, what exactly they need to provide in order to travel, who exactly in their party will be able to fly and who won’t. Vaccination rates haven’t been the same everywhere; many young and middle-aged adults have only had the first dose so far.
Others haven’t been able to get vaccinated for a variety of reasons, only some out of choice. Those who, through no fault of their own, were given the Indian-manufactured AstraZenica batches are suddenly being told they’re pariahs in Malta. Parents with teenage children are in agony: few, if any, 12-18 year olds have been vaccinated outside Malta.
The lack of consistency, preparation, and even just basic common sense, in the way this government has handled the catastrophe has made it a hundred times worse than it could have been. Last summer’s greed-driven stupidity resulted not only in massively heavier restrictions and limitations, but also, and far more tragically, in hundreds of potentially avoidable deaths.
All year people have been warning urgently, we mustn’t make the same mistake next summer, we must learn from the disaster of July 2020 and be more careful, more responsible, more intelligent. As if. The goons in government represent the very definition of stupidity: the total inability to learn from their mistakes.
Once again, like automatons set in motion by coins pushed through their lips, Abela and Fearne have allowed their disastrous policies to be dictated by unscrupulous businessmen who believe that filling their empty hotel rooms and language-school classrooms is more important that safeguarding the nation’s health.
Abela is clearly not his own man. He’s being buffeted between puppet masters faster than his clockwork brain is able to compute.
But people have, so far, been very kind to Fearne and the superintendent of public health, Charmaine Gauci. They’ve jointly been credited with all Malta’s anti-COVID-19 successes, but somehow been almost entirely exonerated of the failures.
They’re treated with quasi-reverence by the journalists at their press conferences, who allow them to get away with ignoring their questions without pressing them, and accept without question the way Fearne, in particular, simply waves the more challenging queries towards Abela with smug disdain.
But in truth, Fearne bears as much, if not more, of the blame for the mess his government has made of this crisis as Abela.
Fearne isn’t a clueless airhead. Fearne knows what should have been done. Indeed, he started well – who among us doesn’t sigh for the first few months of the pandemic, when Malta’s handling of it was praised across Europe?
But, like Abela, Fearne is beholden to the organ grinders keeping his party afloat. I have to laugh when I hear people discussing Fearne as the one, true hope of the Labour Party. As if he’s any different to the rest of his bottom-feeding colleagues. The very fact that he’s still in government with them proves the lie in that myth.
Even if we ignore the corruption, dishonesty and vulgarity that he’s chosen to continue supporting, year after year, and judge him purely on his COVID performance, he’s demonstrated without doubt that he’s as bad as the rest of them.
He will have known how disastrous last summer’s unbridled reopening was going to be, yet he allowed himself to be part of it. He would definitely have foreseen the calamity that this summer’s chaos would bring, yet there he is again.
If he had the slightest hint of integrity in his intentions, he’d have resigned long before signing his name to the idiocy that informed the irresponsible re-opening of the airport and the language schools, and the abandonment of any pretence of social distancing enforcement.
Abela will go down in history as an ignorant dupe whose lack of intelligence became a national scourge. But Fearne will be remembered even more darkly. Fearne will be recalled as the man whose lust for power allowed him to compromise himself, time after time. He’ll be memorialised as the man so desperate for the leadership of his shameful party that he abandoned responsibility for the wellbeing and safety of the country with which he’d been entrusted.
Having created this monumental chaos for a country already in crisis, Fearne and Abela need to step up, finally, and behave like actual leaders. Make forward-thinking plans, stop being pushed and pulled by conscienceless money-grubbers and hysterical internet opinions, and act fast to create a framework for steady, measured reopening that doesn’t risk every hard-won, precious, bit of progress made and instead paves the way for a true route out of this nightmare.
Unless one of them starts to do the job they were elected to do, Malta is going to remain caught in this endless loop of COVID hell, struggling two steps forwards, then plummeting back into the abyss. It’s tragic that Malta must depend on these ill-intentioned incompetents to get us through such a challenging time: without a radical change in strategy, the tragedy is going to continue running on repeat, with no end in sight.