In the beginning of July, I had to hop on and off some planes and spend some time in a few airports, and I have to say that it was all rather surreal.
You know those cowboy movies where the hero chances upon a ghost town and everything stands still except for the creaking sound of the saloon signpost swinging in the wind?
Airports were exactly like that: instead of the creaking signpost, it was the creaking sound of my hand-luggage wheels. In Munich, for example, there was absolutely no one at the baggage reclaim. It was just me and the chugga-chugga vibration of the luggage belt.
When an airport janitor suddenly materialised out of nowhere pushing a trolley full of danger-sign cones, I was totally weirded out, half expecting zombies to start popping up.
Planes were half empty and the passengers on board were all heavily masked and all shrivelling up in their own space trying to avoid even air contact. Upon landing, everyone went their own way as far away from crowds as possible.
“Hmm, that’s quite safe then,” texted my nurse friend who had been a bit apprehensive about my journey.
I wouldn’t say that things will stay the same for long. Planes coming to Malta are increasingly choc-a-bloc; and not with Maltese people who live abroad returning home for a bit of sun. No, now air traffic to Malta has started to cater for another type of traveller: the reveller.
Partygoers are not the kind of social-distance-aware tourists who will quietly go to a beach, do a bit of sightseeing and, in the evening, book a table for two in a secluded corner of a restaurant.
Partygoers travel specifically to a location because they want to spend the weekend in front of a stage in a bumper crowd, jostling, milling, dancing, drinking, hugging, snorting, squeezing and sweating and, in general, doing all the things that makes the coronavirus go deliriously wild.
They are coming to Malta to attend large-scale staged festivals which are normally held elsewhere in Europe – but this year, no other country wanted to host them for health-security reasons.
So, Malta stepped in “to save day” and Numero Uno, Gianpula, Café del Mar and the MFCC will be hosting these “five unrivalled, large-scale festivals from the end of August to mid-September”. Woo-hoo.
Most of the merrymakers will be coming from the UK – you know, the country worst hit by COVID-19 in Europe.
And Malta is being promoted as the quarantine-free country which “boasts the fewest active coronavirus cases in the EU”.
“If you want peace and quiet, give Malta a miss,” promoters are plugging: Malta is the motherland of all parties. Oh, right.
Now, now, don’t worry, Tourism Minister Julia Portelli assured us, we know what we’re doing.
Ahem, somehow, it’s not her assurance that I want but that of the health minister. Where has he gone all of a sudden?
A couple of weeks ago, Prime Minister Abela, speaking with a mask over his mouth for the first time – and that’s only because he was in Brussels and he didn’t want other prime ministers to scowl at him – said that in hindsight, we had exaggerated our lockdown measures.
So, to mitigate that, mass events like the marċi tal-festa, where hundreds of people get drunk and jump on top of each other swimming in beer; and weekend-long pool parties, where hundreds of people get drunk and jump on top each other swimming in chlorine, were allowed.
Surprise, surprise, the cases spiked; and so did the pressure on the medics – this week saw at least 10,000 calls a day to the COVID-19 hotline and requests for swabbing went through the roof.
Abela’s reaction? “Don’t panic ... we’ll remain open for business.” And then we got to know about these thousands of revellers coming here for even bigger mass events.
So, the way to do business it seems, is for Malta to open its doors to mass- cuddling events while others across Europe close theirs.
Air traffic to Malta has started to cater for another type of traveller: the reveller- Kristina Chetcuti
Now, I am a) all for airports being open and b) all for the economy to be kick-started in order to stave off job redundancies and c) all for going back to a semblance of normal life. But I have to say that I’m a bit baffled at this point.
The migrants from Africa who were rescued this week got a trial by social media because many of them had the virus. Yet, they were immediately swabbed and quarantined. Revellers coming from Europe won’t be swabbed and they won’t be isolated, but rather, they’ll be encouraged to mingle.
I thought we had stayed inside all of spring in order not to overwhelm the NHS. What about the frontliners now? What about the elderly?
What about patients in hospitals? As the cases keep rising, will we have to close them off again just for the sake of party revellers and the money they pour into drinks?
What needs to be done primarly is to boost local consumer confidence, which can only grow as the cases fizzle out. For that to happen, Malta needs to be “the peace and quiet island” and block all mass events.
The spikes they’ll bring with them will dramatically shrink economic confidence. And once these revellers leave, we shall be left with the vulnerable in worse mental health and an ailing economy still.
[Editorial note: This piece was submitted before festival organisers announced that they were cancelling the events]
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