The new measures announced recently to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 – specifically mandatory mask wearing outside the home and the 11pm curfew on bars and clubs – were introduced after enormous pressure exerted from medical professionals.

The measures go some way towards tightening what was a very loose rein on the situation. They may, however, be a case of trying to close the barn door after the horse has bolted.

In her weekly briefing yesterday, the Superintendent of Public Health was clear: the virus is out there, spreading in the community.

From the daily public health department’s breakdown of the current situation, it is evident that the main source of spread is now within families. One positive contact can spread the virus within an unsuspecting household.

Schools have opened without bringing the virus under control. Attendance is necessary for the well-being of children. Where the government failed was by failing to ensure community transmission was at a manageable low.

We may expect an upsurge of cases from this source soon. Family-to-pupil spread is likely to turn into pupil-to-pupil transmission, no matter what precautions the schools are taking. And, in turn, children, while not themselves being at big risk for complications, could contaminate vulnerable family members. It is not easy for a grandparent to resist hugging and kissing their grandchild. Many probably babysit the children while the parents are at work.

Bars too have been proven to be one of the main primary sources of spread. It is, further, almost impossible to ensure that people stick with social distancing rules when they are under the influence of alcohol. It is very doubtful that the 11pm curfew for bars and clubs goes far enough in this regard.

Entertainment and catering establishments that break the rules should not only be fined. They should be shut down until the pandemic passes. It is the only way that some in that sector will take heed.

If we are to avoid a complete shutdown, stricter social distancing rules may need to be applied, such as further reducing the number of people who gather together.

All politicians and people of influence must drum home the message that this is not the flu. This is a dangerous virus that could not only be fatal but, as is now becoming clearer, could have long-term effects on a person’s health.

With the arrival of influenza, it will become very hard for doctors to distinguish between its symptoms and those of COVID-19, especially in their mild form. This could mean excessive swab referrals, unnecessary quarantine and the possibility of missed diagnoses in many cases.

The government is doing well in its efforts so far to achieve widespread vaccination against the flu as a way to minimise the above problem as well as to reduce the number of hospitalisations.

A complete lockdown is not necessary. We managed without it in the spring. Clamping down on the main sources of transmission, on the other hand, is a must.

The declaration of a public health emergency would go further towards bringing the health crisis under control. Decision-making is not to be trusted in the hands of a prime minister who persists in giving a bad example: in a press conference yesterday he failed to wear a mask when not sufficiently distanced from the people he was speaking to.

The message must be reinforced that cooperation by all members of society is needed to get this second wave under control. Hopefully, enforcement will fill the vacuum where people do not cooperate voluntarily.

Failing to do this will risk more deaths, more seriously ill patients, more business closures and a longer and deeper recession than now seems inevitable.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us