The new round of Covid-19 measures announced by the government on Wednesday came rather late, but they are welcome, nonetheless.
The government, facing mounting pressure and skyrocketing daily infection figures, announced the closure of schools and non-essential outlets. Public gatherings have been reduced to four people and travel to Gozo is being restricted once again. In an unprecedented move, even weddings have been banned.
Prime Minister Robert Abela had been facing calls by many unions, medical associations and people in the political and business spheres to take the country into a short lockdown – what is now commonly referred to as a circuit breaker – a drastic measure needed to stop all social contacts and lead to a sharp drop in Covid cases.
The calls intensified as a clearer picture of what is happening inside the healthcare system started to emerge.
Doctors and nurses warned that the fifth Intensive Therapy Unit was already at full capacity and medical personnel, who have been working inhumane hours for the past twelve months, are burning out. The entire health system is in danger of collapsing.
It also emerged on Wednesday that more than 60% of new cases detected were related to the UK variant, which can be transmitted much more easily than the original Coronavirus strain.
It was clear that something had to be done. More aggressive measures were needed. There was no other option: step up measures now or face chaos in the near future.
While the measures announced on Wednesday evening do not amount to a full lockdown, they have been well received, including by the Medical Association of Malta, and it is hoped that the numbers will go down over the coming days.
In reality, though, it might not be that simple.
The measures announced this week and last week are very similar to the ones put in place last year. The government will argue that the situation back then was worse, because we did not have the knowledge we have today about the virus and we also did not have the vaccine. But there was something else we did not have back then – the UK variant.
It has been reported elsewhere that the chances of one person transmitting the variant to another person is around 70% higher than in the case if the ‘normal’ Covid-19 virus.
The reality is that, as long as people continue to meet and mingle, the virus will continue to spread.
Whether the measures currently in place will be enough to bring the numbers down again remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the government must step up our vaccination drive. It has already pledged to do so, and we hope to see the process pick up even more speed over the coming days and weeks.
The government also need to beef up its helpline system, which is clearly struggling to cope, leaving many people with a lack of direction.
As usual, rules have to be backed up by proper enforcement.
Finally, it is easy to criticise the government for not introducing restrictions or not introducing them soon enough, but we must never forget that we too have a part to play in all this.
Since no lockdown was imposed, it is now up to us to avoid going out as much as possible, and to follow all health guidelines.