Editorial | Lifting the weight of the pandemic

Achieving herd immunity, the earliest possible through a concerted vaccination effort has to be a priority so that the weight of the pandemic can be lifted


Hope for a better 2021 comes in the form of a jab but exiting the COVID-19 pandemic will not be quick.

The vaccine roll out programme unveiled by Health Minister Chris Fearne yesterday shows that the non-vulnerable working population will only start receiving the jab in mid-May.

Herd immunity will only be reached by September, he added.

According to these timeframes it will only be in the last quarter of the year that ‘normality’ can return with peace of mind.

The timelines announced by Fearne are based solely on the availability of two vaccines – Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – of which Malta has a combined order of 770,000 doses.

This means that once the European Medicines Agency authorises the use of other COVID-19 vaccines, especially the Oxford-AstraZeneca one being developed in the UK, the timelines can be brought forward.

There is no indication yet of when EMA is expected to approve the Oxford vaccine and Fearne was reluctant to indicate by how much the timeframes can be advanced when a third vaccine becomes available.

But the timelines hardly suggest a return to business as usual by May as Prime Minister Robert Abela reiterated in his end-of-year address.

It is unclear whether the target to inoculate all frontliners, all people living in care homes and all vulnerable people by the end of May will be accompanied by a gradual lifting of restrictive measures.

For sectors such as the leisure industry, bars and restaurants it is only a return to social life that will enable them to get going. A return to social life will also provide an impetus to the beverage industry, the cultural and artistic sector and other services.

The Prime Minister’s upbeat attitude may provide the antidote to the doom and gloom. His positive outlook may be intentioned to keep people’s spirits high, which in itself is not a bad thing.

But this has to also be accompanied by sobriety because the dynamic of a pandemic like this remains unpredictable. The emergence of a more infectious COVID-19 strain over the past month was a stark reminder of the uncertainty caused by this virus.

However, a more concerning aspect for the business community is trying to understand how normality will look once the pandemic is brought under control.

The general understanding is that societies will not return to the exact same point they were in February 2020 just before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Businesses will have to gauge consumer behaviour and understand how this has changed. Socialisation and travelling patterns may not be the same.

There is also the reality of depressed incomes and families who will want to build up their cash reserves again after plundering them to survive the COVID-19 onslaught.

Businesses that survive will have to determine whether their model can still work or whether they will have to undergo substantial changes.

Consolidation in some sectors may have to happen, jobs are likely to be lost but opportunities may be knocking at the door. Demand will not pick up quickly and tourism will not only depend on Malta’s efforts but also on the situation in the source markets.

Making heads and tails of all this will not be easy and the answers will not be straightforward.

Achieving herd immunity, the earliest possible through a concerted vaccination effort has to be a priority so that the weight of the pandemic can be lifted.

Once that weight is removed, more effort can be dedicated to crafting a new normal.

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