As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this Christmas is essentially different from all past ones.
Christmas is normally time for meeting with friends and family, for socialising. It is the time when we normally gather in large groups for a variety of purposes. This is exactly the opposite of what is required to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Avoiding and reducing unnecessary contacts to the bare minimum helps to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. That is what we all say and believe, notwithstanding government’s continuous conflicting signals.
One of the last such conflicting signals was given during a Press Conference launching Christmas in the City earlier this week. Ministers Josè Herrera and Julia Farrugia-Portelli, buttressed by Super One Chairman Jason Micallef and others spoke about shopping hours and parking requirements when launching Christmas in the City. The Christmas spirit is not dependent on shopping hours, nor does it have any parking requirements.
In my book Christmas is the solidarity season which in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic assumes additional significance.
Almost simultaneously with the Christmas in the City launching, epidemiologists were warning us that the daily number of deaths from Covid-19 in Malta was expected to triple during the month of December: from two to six deaths daily. At the time of writing the Covid-19 death count is 106 and rising. The death count has increased substantially since restrictions were reduced in July 2020.
Within this context it is not on to encourage large numbers to descend on Valletta for their Christmas shopping. It is the time to do exactly the opposite: discourage movements, hoping that as a result, movements are restricted to the bear minimum.
All of us acknowledge that Covid-19 has seriously impacted the livelihood of many. Economic sectors such as the food and the hospitality industries have experienced severe challenges during the summer season, when ordinarily this business would have been booming. As we approach Christmas, the pandemic not only does not show any sign of slowing down: it may well spike once more. An opportunity for economic recovery remains under threat.
More people are succumbing to the virus every day. The desire to draw people to Valletta and other commercial centres in an effort to tap the Christmas spirit for commercial gain, thereby providing a lifeline to businesses is understandable. Health considerations should however take priority: now is however not the time to encourage celebrations of whatever nature. Instead of encouraging people to get out to the commercial centres, government should encourage more cautious behaviour. Government handouts and wage supplements have the specific purpose of helping shoulder the burden created by all this.
Why do we threaten the sacrifices of the many at this critical time by encouraging unreasonable behaviour?
Covid-19 will not kill Christmas if fewer people do their Christmas shopping. The Christmas spirit is not measured in terms of the volume of Christmas shopping but in terms of our acts of solidarity.
Where do we go from here?
The greatest act of solidarity, at this time, is to protect the vulnerable amongst us by following the advice of the health authorities intended to contain the Covid-19 spread as much as possible. A vaccine may be on the horizon, possibly heralding the beginning of a slow return to normality in the first half of the new year.
Until then, it is our duty to take care of ourselves and others by ensuring cautious behaviour. This is the practical solidarity expected from all of us this Christmas season.