Life in the time of COVID

Normally at this time of year, we relax, take life more slowly, enjoy the outdoors, and build our reserves for the autumn and winter. Alas, the COVID-19 virus has us mired in the damnable present, full of uncertainty and fears that too easily run rampant.

I know, I know: One day the virus will pass and the hopefulness that (sometimes) animates our approach to life will re-emerge. Call me optimistic. We’re in it for the long haul, but we will prevail (if only just).

On Saturday, the Minister of Health announced new restrictions following a new surge in infections. The bolt from the blue was a ban on travel by unvaccinated people. A good number of people who had been planning to take their first holiday since 2019, or Maltese residing abroad who were hoping to visit their relatives and friends here, have had their plans dashed. Many feel aggravated. 

Social media exploded again. Some were enraged at being “punished” for not taking the vaccine, accusing Minister Fearne of abuse of power and denial of their freedom of movement, supposedly guaranteed under the EU’s charters. So far, though the Maltese tend to be quite litigious, nobody has filed any constitutional case to assert their rights.

Of course, those who rushed to take the vaccine think that Minister Fearne is doing the right thing. In fact, they delight in the punishment aspect of it, not giving a second thought to the possibility that there may be people who are genuinely afraid of the unknown risks associated with the vaccines. And they said so, in their thousands, on the social media.

After two weeks of listening to predictions of doom and gloom following Malta being placed on the so-called grey list of FATF, the whole hullabaloo was side-lined by the rising tide of infections and restrictions. The Opposition, which was having a field day castigating the Government for bringing Malta into disrepute, had to quickly rejig its guns and hope that, if FATF did not dent the Prime Minister’s trust ratings, COVID would.   

It seems that we are on a roller-coaster. One day common people are screaming with delight at knowing that we have achieved herd immunity, the next they are screaming with fright at a new explosion of infections. It’s no different with the business sector. One day, the English-language schools are rip-roaring with delight at being allowed to re-open, the next they are furious that they have been closed down willy-nilly.

It’s hard to know how Government is handling the pandemic. When you’d think that it has the damned thing totally under control according to some grand plan, suddenly it slips up and it’s back to square one. Cries of joy at “beating” the beast are quickly replaced by pained pleas to make some more sacrifices.

But if COVID has a habit of pulling the carpet from under the Government, public opinion keeps playing tricks on the Opposition. When it seems as if the Opposition has the Government on the run with the ethics report on Rosianne Cutajar, a new poll comes out that shows it rolling back down the mountain like Sisyphus. It is rather pitiful to listen to the Leader of the Opposition appealing to the people to unite behind the PN, when they are giving him the thumbs down.   

Is there some light at the end of the tunnel? Despite the latest setback, and bar some almighty blunders, we can say that we are well-placed to enter a treacherous autumn. No seniors are dying. Kids are still being fed. Most people have built up a nest egg of savings to weather them through any difficulties. And there are still the latest batch of vouchers to use (I have abstained so far).

Of course, some people are still nursing their wounds from falling victims to the inevitablecoronavirus scams that have spread like, well, the coronavirus variant. After having fallen for scams promising rates of interest in the double digits, at a time when one almost has to pay the bank for one’s deposits, they have again succumbed to shady companies selling “cures”,online sellers peddling goods like medical supplies that will never be delivered, fake charities, and supposedly paying €1.94 for having DHL deliver a package they hadn’t ordered and then finding their bank account has been debited by anything between €500 and €5,000.

Meanwhile, the economy is humming over, in spite of the severe strain under which it has been placed. The European Commission and all the credit rating agencies expect it to grow at a higher rate than the European average, though apparently some 88% of businesses feel it will impact the economy negatively. Come January we will know. And economic relief – through the EU-funded Recovery Plan – is on the way.

If anybody has got something to get off their chest (other than the virus hopefully), they can always go to the church and confess. You know, we still do that in Malta. Elsewhere, like in the United States, they have their prayer requests to the Big Guy delivered by Amazon! But then, our American friends have always been a bit weird.

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