This column first appeared in Malta Today
As I sat down to write this on Friday afternoon, the fickleness of public opinion had already moved on from speculating about who was really responsible for Melvin Theuma’s injuries or discussing (yet again) the possible fate of Adrian Delia.
After several days of no cases, the news that a cluster of six new cases had been found, linked directly to the positive case announced on Thursday from the Hotel Takeover three day pool party at the Radisson Blu, meant that we were back to worrying about Covid-19 again.
Remember Covid our old friend? He has not really gone away, you know, but has still been lurking around just underneath the surface. We may occasionally forget to maintain our social distance as we let our guard down, but it has taken just this one cluster to shake us out of our summer stupor and make us very wary again. As public pressure mounted, a similar three-day event which was supposed to have taken place this weekend at the same hotel was hastily cancelled, much to the chagrin of those who had flown over to Malta purely to party.
As much as I had agreed with the re-opening of the airport, perhaps it was too much to expect that people would simply be satisfied with a nice, relaxing summer break while respecting the safety guidelines. And as much as it made sense for locals to opt for a staycation, flocking to the various hotels for weekend breaks with Government vouchers in hand, perhaps it was too much to expect that entrepreneurs would not try to recoup this year’s losses by coming up with ways for people to go to a hotel and party.
But it is a short-sighted way to look at things, especially from the hotel’s perspective. I hope the three day party was worth the bad press they have received, because to me it seems like they are going to have to do a lot of damage control to reassure any prospective guests that the hotel is safe. Although Radisson Blu issued a statement to the effect that all health and safety protocols were found to be in order by the Health Department, we have heard too many stories of how the virus started to spread again in other countries such as Spain, and people are understandably alarmed.
It is not my intention to single out just this one event, however. We have all seen the photos of the typical morning ‘march’, a street party which has now become synonymous with binge drinking and other substances (all in the name of the patron saint of course). Many towns and villages have been eager to let their residents know that this traditional aspect of the village feast is still taking place (although, inexplicably, the actual religious feasts inside the churches have been cancelled). From what I can understand this is because the Curia has taken the correct cautious approach regarding indoor functions by adhering to the mitigation guidelines, but it has no say over what are known as the ‘external festivities’ which are organised by the respective band clubs.
In an interview she gave on Friday, Superintendent of Public Health Professor Charmaine Gauci once again appealed to the public to remain cautious and to continue practicing social distancing as well as to avoid mass gatherings. However, it must be borne in mind that while there are those who have always understood the scientific explanations behind the need to be sensible and avoid rubbing shoulders with crowds, there has always been another segment of the population which considers Covid-19 a gross media exaggeration, if not a global conspiracy theory.
The vague way all the measures were relaxed sent a very lopsided message with everyone interpreting it as they saw fit. The result is two diametrically opposite lifestyles on the same island, where some have simply picked up from where they left off in summer 2019, while others are exercising caution and are still keeping their contact with other people within reasonable limits. At this point, the only thing we can hope for is that those who were at the Takeover Party, or indeed, any of the mass events taking place, realise that they need to stay away from their elderly grandparents and anyone who is high-risk. Hopefully, they will also be sensible and get themselves tested, and wear a mask where required, although I fear being sensible is not exactly their strong point.
As much as the virus has taken centre-stage once again, it is impossible to ignore the events of last Tuesday when word quickly spread that Melvin Theuma, the state witness in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case, had been found with his throat slashed, as well as with other stab wounds, at his residence. Net News was quickly present with a film crew outside the crime scene and live footage was soon circulating.
Since I was not there, and nor, I can safely assume, were any of our readers, I can only base my comments on what was reported by the various newsrooms. Of course, newsrooms have to rely on official sources for their information and this is the first stumbling block. If you have absolutely lost all trust in the Police force then there is no need to read any further, because anything I quote will be considered suspect. But here, for what is worth, is the Police version: the multiple stab wounds, some of which were deep, to Theuma’s neck, abdomen and wrist were self-inflicted, in what appears to be an attempted suicide or self-harm. Addressing a press conference, Police Commissioner Gafà said there were no so-called ‘defensive wounds’ and the blood splatter was also indicative of self-injury. There were no reports of struggle and no one heard any commotion, he added.
Because he caused damage to his vocal cords, he could not speak but “indicated to the police” (presumably through gestures), that he had caused the injuries himself. According to the Times: “Medical sources say the injuries he sustained and the angles of the stab wounds seem to indicate self-harm. It will be the magisterial inquiry that determines whether this was the case, as well as the extent of the damage to his vocal cords.”
The questions swirling around this bizarre turn of events on the eve of when Theuma was supposed to testify are, of course, endless, and so is the speculation and the jumping to conclusions. Surely there are easier ways to commit suicide? Was this actually self-harm to avoid having to testify, and if so, why? If someone was really trying to kill him, surely they had time to finish the job before he was found? Or was this a sinister mafia-like ‘warning’ as so many have suggested?
Although the Police are once again under fire for “failing to protect a key witness”, it has now been confirmed by Malta Today that, up until December of last year, Theuma had close protection inside his home, however this was withdrawn at the request of his own lawyers, claiming that their client had a right to privacy.
There is nothing more than I can add at this point which will not stray into the realm of conjecture, which I try to avoid. There are two aspects, however, which are readily apparent. The first is that finally we have an articulate Police Commissioner who was well-prepared and briefed and was open to any of the questions put to him by journalists. This in itself speaks volumes because it should be taken as a given that someone in such a role knows how to work with the press, but at least we have seen a marked improvement. Secondly, it is painfully obvious that because of the political scandals we have lived through, trust has been eroded in not just the Police force, but in every institution, including the Fourth Estate. No one is trusted which means people now prefer turning to each other on FB to search for answers. The suspicion that they are not being told the truth, that everything is a cover-up and that unsubstantiated conspiracy theories carry more weight than cold, hard facts, is a sad indictment of the sorry state Malta has been reduced to.
From past experience, I know that it will always be the case that people will believe the narrative they want to believe, and will shut their ears to anything which does not tally with their own belief system. Keeping an open mind until the facts are established is a rarity. The fact that there is no sound reference point in the form of a proper Opposition has also reduced half of the country to feeling disoriented and lost, not knowing whether to keep following the news and plunging into greater despair, or to simply give up because they feel powerless to do anything. No wonder so many have concluded that they might as well kick back, switch off, and enjoy their summer.