The COVID-19 numbers being issued by the health department over the last couple of weeks show an alarming rise in new cases. It is now one of the highest in Europe per capita.

We have yet to experience the human cost, in serious illness and death, of those statistics. This is probably because the vast majority of those testing positive so far are among the younger population, less susceptible to medical complications from coronavirus. But they are the very people who travel, party and congregate during the summer.

The biggest spreaders tend to be those who feel least in danger. They will go home, go to work and socialise with others who, if not vulnerable themselves, may transmit the virus to someone who is: a mother or father, grandparent, sickly child, a patient on chemotherapy or with a chronic condition.

The virus is silent and stealthy. It will not wave a flag to indicate its presence. Some will not know they carry it although they may be spreading it. This is why it is so dangerous.

The last few days have seen evidence of spread taking place from the younger groups to those at higher risk. Hospitalisations are on the rise, although they include many who cannot safely isolate at home. If we are to follow the pattern in other countries, the likelihood is that deaths will unfortunately follow.

The government had taken credit for previously keeping COVID-19 down. Now that the pandemic has come roaring back, it must acknowledge that accusations of mismanagement are justified. In these circumstances, health and the economy are interdependent. Get the first right and the second will fare well. But get it wrong… and the economic repercussions are already being felt.

Medical professionals across the board have been clamouring for the government to take a firmer hold of the situation; to urgently consider the introduction of stricter prevention and enforcement measures that would ultimately save lives. Otherwise, livelihoods too are at risk.

This would not, however, exonerate the public from its own civic duty. The virus does not spread via bad politicians and policies, although it may exploit them. It spreads through people. More specifically, by droplet infection. By talking, sneezing, coughing, breathing and even being in close proximity to someone else.

If the government fails to do all it can to keep everyone safe, then people have to take their safety in their own hands. The first rule to slow or halt the spread is to avoid crowds and crowded places. Events of a certain size can still be held but that is no excuse to attend them.

Although the opportunity for travel is shrinking as more countries put Malta on their ‘unsafe’ travel lists, it would be prudent for anyone who has travelled to self-quarantine on their return.

Finally, mask wearing is a minor inconvenience that could prevent fatalities. Uncomfortable? Spare a thought for the healthcare workers at swabbing centres and hospitals who have to wear them for 12-hour shifts. Think of those who, because people around them have not kept a safe distance or worn a mask, will be strapped to an oxygen-delivery mask for days or weeks.

Think of the elderly and vulnerable who will, once again, become virtual prisoners in their homes if the numbers keep going up.

And if none of that strikes a chord, consider that, by helping to spread COVID-19, you may be contributing to a further deterioration of the economy. Think of your neighbour’s job. Think of yours.

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