Tuesday 26 May 2020

A new world dis-order

Guess post by Lisa Galea

The spread of Covid-19 has paradoxically made people wonder whether it is a curse on humankind or a blessing in disguise. Is it an eye-opener of the material culture that permeated countries? The experience has highlighted what Bill Gates has drummed over and over again, that the world was not prepared.

To an extent, so far Malta appears to be flattening the curve but is everyone doing his bit? Those who work in hospitals, do community work, offer services, work in the industry or help by volunteering, those who have been locked up with kids for 3 weeks all contributed, even the kids have done their part. Yet those who persistently ignore quarantine orders or just want to get on with their life indifferent to the rest of us who are pulling the rope, are egoistic and a reflection of the type of society we created over the last decade.

Malta has to do a lot of soul searching after this experience and has to learn from its own or other countries failures. Do we invest enough in R&D? Should we inject money into medical research? Do we need to beef up jobs in the medical department? Should we hold on to local talents in such fields and give them the specialisation they deserve? How prepared are we for a disaster? Can we really sustain the numbers of non-Maltese residing here, especially our social and health care system? Should we limit numbers of tourists and immigrants? If we do so, will we stop the excessive building to accommodate too many people and instead look into preserving our beautiful island? Should we do proper zoning and policies and stop the uglification of this island? Should we encourage farming and self-sustaining projects? As much as the feel-good factor has been drummed into our ears over the past few years, the reality is that Malta is waking up to a new reality. 

People are being made redundant as soon as a problem arose, unemployed cannot pay rent, others their mortgage. Weddings have been cancelled, holidays and personal projects too. If one can be positive, the reason is a paradigm shift from egoism to altruism. What was fickle is collapsing or collapsed already, what was fine is asked to stay on stand-by for a while. One hopes that, in the near future we will be rewarded for the discipline shown (with a few exceptions). 

However, from this dire situation, many issues come to mind. The lack of consensus and leadership the world found itself in. The lack of direction given by WHO, by the EU, the general attitude of to each his own is quite disheartening. This situation has made everyone equal and therefore, we have to pull the rope equally because we are in it together. 

The EU has given its finance ministers a deadline to come up with a solution because certain countries are not willing to help the hardest hit. What happened to the idea of European solidarity? Is the survivalist instinct kicking in? Italy might as well branch off and make deals with countries that sent unconditional help. It will probably be better off cozying up with China, it could also learn a thing or two about authoritarian discipline, which is the antipode of ruling chaos. If only its politicians were not always lost in useless debacles, which crippled the resources toward research, Italy could sprint back into action after its wounds heal. The blight on the EU is its inability to handle the situation, its lack of foresight or preparation of a common front to fight this situation. I must say that in this case, it is good we are trudging alone. I am not impressed by the lethargic bureaucratic monster the EU has been for many years and this failure to respond cohesively in the time of need makes it even more obvious. 

It is clear that nobody believed it would hit them. When Ebola broke out the world reacted the same way and said it is Africa’s problem. Yet the two were very different cases. In Africa the speed of travel and mobility is more restricted, the areas that were hit did not have the amount of air traffic and transport exchanges the world had with China. If the Chinese government shut down three cities there was a reason. But the world procrastinated in denial and assumed it was another Sars or Ebola… It is not.

As it progressed through Italy, the denial continued. The UK Prime Minister ran the denial show and now that it hit him personally, he was begging Trump for ventilators. Trump as is his style gave the usual reassuring answer “As you know Boris has tested positive and it’s a terrible thing. But he’s going to be great. I’m sure he’s going to be great.” The bottom line was – Yes Boris you asked for ventilators, but you’re doing great we will keep them to ourselves. There goes the world solidarity of leaders who were in denial. Even Bolsonaro is still doubting the numbers coming out of his own country claiming they are inflated. If I had to find a common denominator to these politicians, it is a bunch of inflated egos.

Robert Abela had better not do the same blunder these leaders are doing and should leave decisions to those who should be taking them. This is no time for u-turns to please the crowds.

In the meantime, he should refrain from interfering, the staggered closure of the country makes sense but opening it too early to flights and tourism to revive the economy without assurances that a repeat of this situation does not happen again would be a fatal blow. It is not enough to ask people to make sacrifices, we need clear signs and actions that after making the sacrifice we will reap results. In the meantime, during these days we spend indoors, we have a lot of questions to ask ourselves regarding the direction we want this country to take:

Were we shortsighted over the past few years?

Should we be more sustainable?

Should we depend so much on other countries?

Do we have a working model for future pandemics?

Can we improve it?

Should we re-kindle and expand certain industries?

Should we encourage more medical excellence and explore new fields of medicine?

Could we ever be prepared?  

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