Only the biggest sceptics would dispute Malta’s effective fight against the pandemic. With no handbook to resort to, the health authorities, and to a large extent, our politicians, resorted to science to fight back COVID-19.
With few exceptions in the past 19 months or so, we did not let COVID-19 spiral out of control. It took great sacrifice, a well-planned campaign and an impressive vaccine dissemination exercise to get to this stage. Many of us were hoping COVID-19, or at least its brutal impact, would have been destined to the annals of history by now but we have to acknowledge it will not happen any time soon.
It is almost a foregone conclusion that coronavirus will become endemic, meaning it will continue to circulate in pockets of the global population for years to come but, hopefully, won’t upend our lives anymore.
We can only hope the new variants will not become deadlier and that vaccines remain effective.
Each country is now adapting its measures as it deems fit. Denmark this week became the first EU country to drop all COVID restrictions, even abolishing its vaccine passports. The Danish government’s decision was based on the fact that more than 80 per cent of people above the age of 12 have had the two shots and says it no longer considers COVID-19 a “socially critical” disease.
Whether the Danes are jumping the gun and adopting a risky approach remains to be seen.
On the other side of the spectrum, Malta remains one of the strictest countries in the world where it comes to COVID restrictions, despite the fact that 90 per cent of the population in Malta has been vaccinated and the fact that new virus figures have remained stable for weeks, despite opening our borders.
While some measures have been relaxed, there is no end in sight for masks and social restrictions, with forecasts saying the pandemic could get worse in the coming months.
But while we cannot let down our guard, we should stop resorting to extreme measures that risk alienating law-abiding citizens that have patiently obeyed all instructions.
And this is why the draconian measure of putting travellers arriving from so-called ‘dark red’ countries in quarantine hotels needs to stop at once.
The practice of charging €1,400 to transfer passengers to a hotel on half-board basis for two weeks, whether they are vaccinated or not, is nothing short of degrading and excessive. It is no wonder that the last week has seen an increasing number of passengers resort to the media, or even to the courts, to try to stop their detention in a hotel room, complete with police guard stationed outside. Some are even forced to share rooms with strangers because they cannot afford the outrageous fees.
Dozens of countries, including most of South America and Africa, are on the dark-red list. Hundreds of residents in Malta are not travelling to those destinations to go on holiday but simply because they have family, friends and jobs in those countries. This is good enough reason to stop castigating them by taking away their liberty at prohibitive costs.
If the health authorities need to keep a close watch on countries where coronavirus figures are worrying, as they should, then it is easy to allow resident passengers to quarantine at home.
Let’s not forget that many people are trying to rebuild their lives and businesses after several months of mental and financial distress. Let us not underestimate the looming problems of mental health.
The worst thing that can happen at this juncture is to see outlandish measures force public opinion against the health authorities.
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