Coronavirus: The writing’s on the wall | Iggy Fenech


    Four days ago, the first case of Coronavirus was reported in Malta. Today, we have six people confirmed as being infected, and the precautions being taken leave much to be desired. So we really must ask ourselves: are we in for a disaster?

    A lot of people, including those in Government, keep calling for us to stay calm and reassuring us that the situation is under control. That is fair enough; the last thing we need at this point is for people to panic, but we do need to be realistic here.

    Sorry folks, we’re not special

    Malta is hardly equipped to deal with a full-scale epidemic and, I hate to break it to us all, but we’re not one of the Lost Tribes of Israel: we’re not that special and things don’t always circumvent us.

    Cyprus, a country larger than ours in size and far less densely populated, has shut down schools in Nicosia and put two hospitals on lockdown – all this after just two cases of Coronavirus. Malta has six, is densely populated, and has had a tonne of people coming and going from Italy for the past few weeks, and bars in St Julian’s are still irresponsibly (though legally) advertising their St Patrick’s Day events catering for 500 people.

    Slipping through the net

    Then we have the other issue: the people who went abroad and didn’t observe their non-obligatory 14-day self-quarantine, or who didn’t go to work but went out nonetheless. I’m not a statistician, but I do believe that the chances that none of these people was infected and that none of these people has spread the disease are slim.

    The outbreak of this virus may not be our fault, and in a world, as connected as ours, it was bound to wriggle its head here too, but the way we deal with it is totally down to us. Our neighbours in Italy are practically on their knees: 10,149 confirmed cases, 631 people dead, the whole country on lockdown, and people grappling with their new reality (and that’s not to mention the long-term economic and political implications the Coronavirus will have on an already-battered country).

    Worst case scenario

    Malta really needs to take a good look at where it stands and take precautions based on the worst-case scenario not on what we know so far. Closing schools, asking people to work from home, and banning all public gatherings can’t be the last resort because when we get to that point, our hospital will be overrun, our medics will be exhausted, and our resources will not suffice.

    It would also lead to further collapse. Just look at Identity Malta and the way it dealt with the situation this morning. We left dozens of people, huddled up together in the middle of the road, with no information and at risk of catching the disease if just one of them had it – all because workers felt alarmed and didn’t do their job.

    See, while it is wise to tell people not to panic, we need to understand that people do panic. So, maybe, just maybe, stop telling people not to panic and take the necessary steps to ensure they don’t need to.