EDITORIAL | COVID-19: Vigilance, transparency and preparedness

A pro-active transparent approach by the health authorities to address general concerns and those of particular groups of workers about a possible outbreak of coronavirus in Malta is needed, especially in view of the irrational and hysterical claims and reactions on social media


Rationality dictates that Malta will undoubtedly soon have its first cases of coronavirus - no country is immune to the spread of COVID-19.

Disease knows no borders or nationalities and it is only logical to expect that at some point Malta will also register its first coronavirus cases.

As of yesterday, the World Health Organisation was reporting more than 80,000 cases of COVID-19 across 34 countries. In Europe, Italy is facing the most serious outbreak with the authorities taking radical decisions to isolate cases and contain the disease.

Experts in the field of virology and infectious diseases tell us that COVID-19 is not a “scary virus” but that its novelty demands monitoring.

The authorities in Malta are taking the necessary precautions to be able to deal with the eventuality of an outbreak. We trust that all decisions being taken are based on sound risk assessment in line with established practices when dealing with infectious diseases.

On this we prefer to believe what the experts have to say rather than the completely irrational and hysterical reactions on social media.

Within this context, this leader calls for a pro-active transparent approach by the health authorities to address general concerns and those of particular groups of workers.

This is especially so for frontline workers such as nurses, doctors, care workers, the forces of law and order, and teachers, where contact with people is inevitable.

Public criticism levelled by the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses over the country’s preparedness must be addressed because people who want to panic will capitalise on the concerns of respected entities like unions.

Information is the best tool to combat lack of knowledge and ignorance. Admittedly, in the era of social media frenzy this can be a hard slog. Nonetheless, the health authorities and anybody in a position of influence must be responsible by disseminating information that has a basis in science.

The last thing Malta needs is an outbreak of panic in a situation where COVID-19 is already having a destabilising impact on world markets.

The panic-buying witnessed over the past two days is irrational and will only cause more problems.

From a trade point of view the Chamber for Small and Medium Enterprises has called on its members to take the necessary provisions and prepare for delays in import and export processes.

The complete lock-down of some factories in China has had a knock-on effect on trade and this will undoubtedly impact supply chains, the Chamber cautioned.

Its advice was for members to be fully aware of this and be transparent with consumers to avoid disputes as a result of possible supply delays.

Quick resolution of problems that may crop up such as the concerns raised by port workers over the past few days, is a must.

This newspaper reports that agreement has been reached by port worker representatives, freight and shipping companies, and the port authorities to have a doctor board incoming cargo vessels to ensure nobody on board is ill.

These quick decisions are important to ensure the least possible impact on the economy of this virus.

While larger countries like Italy may afford locking down certain localities and regions because the economic impact can be absorbed nationally, even if this comes at a considerable cost, Malta cannot possibly isolate itself from the world.

This is why taking focussed direct action within the parameters of rationality is necessary and must not be overlooked.

On Tuesday, the head of the infectious diseases unit highlighted the difference between being vigilant and being afraid.

Vigilance, transparency and preparedness are what this country needs, not fear, panic and misinformation. 

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