The government has announced the lifting, from tomorrow, of some of the restrictions imposed on Maltese society to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Seve­ral so-called non-essential shops will be permitted to reopen, travel to Gozo will now be allowed and the size of groups that can gather in public places has gone up from three to four.

That we have reached this stage is due to the fact that we have suffered remarkably fewer deaths, critical cases and overall infections than was originally anticipated at this stage of the pandemic.

We can put this down to the decisions taken by the country’s leaders following the recommendations of its expert advisers, the actions of the rightfully praised Department of Public Health and to the much larger cohort of people essential in the fight against this virus: the general public.

On social media, posts often appear condemning those who do not follow the authority’s instructions. The underlying fact remains, however, that the vast majority of people living in Malta have not only followed official guidelines but actually gone beyond.

For a nation not usually noted for discipline and co-operation with officialdom, ordinary citizens have de­monstrated an ingrained ability to behave in the public interest in a crisis, in a way that puts some of our northern neighbours to shame.

So where do we stand now?

There are many, especially in the medical profession, who are very wary of opening the country up too fast and too soon. They fear a second, stronger wave, as has happened in previous pandemics such as the Spanish Flu just over 100 years ago, which killed tens of millions, and H1N1, the swine flu.

Those were both caused by influenza viruses. SARS-Cov-2, the actual name for the virus that causes COVID-19, comes from a completely different family of viruses, the corona­viruses.

The truth of the matter is no one knows how things will progress. This is reflected in the fact that there are nearly as many different approaches to handling the crisis as there are nations, from the strict stay-at-home measures imposed in Spain, France and Italy to the varying degrees of ‘lockdown lite’ applied in the US, Asia and Europe, including Malta.

The key here is to stay cautious and learn from other countries’ successes and mistakes, as Malta did at the beginning of the crisis and appears to be doing now.

It is notable, following the trend in several other countries, that while some measures have been relaxed, others are being imposed, such as the obligatory wearing of face masks when shopping and using public transport.

This two-pronged approach, allowing the economy to restart in a limited, phased way while continuing to restrict opportunities for the virus to be transmitted – all subject to periodical review – may well prove to be the right one.

For it to work though, the closure of our airport to passenger traffic must continue to be tolerated for the time being, even if the economic cost of such a measure is devastating.

There are few advantages to being an isolated island nation but this is one that must be exploited for the long-term benefit of society.

The Maltese and foreign residents of this country are being asked to continue to show the patience and forbearance that has characterised their response so far.

This will ensure they will continue to reap the rewards that working for the common good has already achieved.

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