“Dear Charmaine, how can I persuade my family members to take the COVID-19 vaccination?”

I’m not the one asking that question – a Times reader did, earlier this week, to the Superintendent of Public Health in her regular column carried on this newspaper. To answer this very valid query – which shows how reluctant people are to take the anti-COVID jab – Charmaine Gauci launched into a mini speech fit for the House of Lords.

She went on about how “vaccines are a powerful weapon”, and how we need “stringent mitigation measures” and how the reader should “remind” his relatives that the vaccine is safe, blah blah blah.

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? Prof. Gauci is a doctor and a public health official, therefore, she is entitled to be inoculated. Which means there’s only one thing that she can do if she wants to convince the public that the vaccine is safe: take it herself during a live broadcast of one of her COVID-update sessions.

And rather than pussy foot about the topic, and talk about “stringent mitigation measures” she should just be quoting parts of a Times of Malta harrowing interview with a Maltese doctor who battled the virus. “For days, I felt I was packed into a washing machine and could not get out,” he said. She should tell us how by the end of his trauma, this previously healthy doctor could barely walk and had lost 14kg.

Gauci should be quoting the medical journal Lancet about the long-term effects and organ damage on COVID patients. And above all, she should be visiting hospital and telling us how it is. A nurse friend of mine told me this week how in her 20 years of service, she has never seen so much suffering at Mater Dei. “Even when the patients are still in medical wards, and not yet in ITU, it’s a constant struggle for them to breathe… it’s like they’re drowning.”

So, I ask: dear Charmaine – why haven’t you had the jab yet? And why, as Superintendent of Public Health have you not made the country’s Health Minister take it too? Why aren’t the key leaders in this pandemic not leading by example? Is there something we should know?

This is not a vote-scoring political game. Not only is there the quality of life of the most vulnerable in our society, who have not had the luxury of going about life “business as usual” but there are lives at stake.

It seems to me the government has issued an order to act like coronavirus has been cancelled. Which perhaps explains the axing of the head of the national COVID-19 response team, Kenneth Grech.

With all the millions we’ve been cheated of, all children attending government schools could have been given a free laptop and free internet- Kristina Chetcuti

He was kicked out because he had advised the education department to keep the schools closed for a fortnight after the Christmas holidays. Sensible advice, pretty much in line with what most other EU countries have done – for the simple reason that two weeks of online schooling tantamount to a fortnight in quarantine would help to curb the spread. Grech’s advice was leaked, and teachers, rightly so, protested that his advice was brushed off.

But as it were, our dear Charmaine was wheeled out to say that children must go to school; all schools were forced to open; and Grech was kicked down the stairs. Why? Why not stick to what was safest and most logical? There can only be one answer to it: because government schools must be unable to offer online schooling.

And this, let me hasten to add, is through no fault of the teachers. While independent schools and even church schools have worked their socks off all of last year to be able to provide virtual schooling, the education ministry twiddled its thumbs and kept hoping that this, too, will pass.

This means that this winter, government schools do not have the resources, the training, the infrastructure and the support needed to carry out proper online schooling (as opposed to sending homework instructions by e-mail).

There’s another crippling issue: not all students at government schools have the proper equipment to follow school from home.

I had been under the wrong impression that all children at school from Year 4 onwards are handed a school tablet – but it transpires that they have to hand this back by the end of primary school.

This means teachers cannot teach online because not all their students have a computer. And students don’t have computers because the government didn’t think of providing them with one.

So, what does the government do? It dismisses Grech’s advice and opens schools at the risk of our children, our teachers and our community – because it prefers to squander our tax money elsewhere, like taking over agricultural land to build more roads for more cars for more traffic.

I happily pay my taxes so they are invested into the best possible education for all Maltese children.

But unfortunately, millions of our tax money under the stewardship of Joseph Muscat, has been siphoned off in the pockets of corrupt politicians. Consider how the disgraced Muscat gave his mate Konrad Mizzi an €80,000 job at the Malta Tourism Authority – that’s the equivalent of some 800 school tablets for children.

With all the millions we’ve been cheated of, all children attending government schools could have been given a free laptop and free internet.

We could have had an efficient jab roll-out system, a proper inoculation campaign led by Grech, and dear Charmaine could be sipping champagne.

Twitter: @krischetcuti

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