Crazy isn’t it. In the U.K, everyone from Government Ministers to reality TV celebrities (whatever one of those is) and footballers with an average I.Q of -80 are stamping their feet, making videos on TikTok, recording crappy rehashed 80’s songs screaming at people to obey the rules, stay at home and protect the NHS. The noise level is reaching a cacophony, it’s beginning to sound like someones found a previously undiscovered album by The Sex Pistols it’s that harsh, brash and loud.
Yet, in the midst of all this bullshit with drones stalking dog walkers, lonesome strangers on high peaks and windswept moorlands being yelled at by police officers in helicopters the U.K is warmly welcoming thousands of travellers back home. Thousands of travellers from Peru, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam and Australia to name a few are arriving back to the U.K and into the public domain with little if any actual health checks and no mandatory restrictions such as quarantine being applied.
In Malta, (where I currently live) new arrivals on repatriation flights from anywhere in the world regardless of what that country’s Covid-19 record is, are sent immediately from the airport into a 2-week mandatory at-home quarantine. This is rigorously enforced by random home checks by the police and enforcement authorities with fines now of a minimum €3,000 for anyone who breaches that rule.
In the U.K however, thousands of travellers are arriving back from overseas and simply swanning through the airport, straight onto tubes, buses and trains and skipping home to their families and friends with no quarantine restrictions whatsoever. Friends of mine landed in the U.K 2 days ago. They secured repatriation flights from Thailand to Qatar and then onwards from there to Heathrow. Both flights were packed, everyone sitting in close proximity. My friends who were wearing face masks and basically sanitizing everything as they walked from door handles to seat rests met people who had travelled from Australia, Singapore, Bali, Vietnam and a whole plethora of other destinations. The flights were very busy as you would expect.
Imagine if just 10% of those travellers on the Doha to Heathrow flight have Covid-19, say 50 passengers. Even on an infection ratio of 2.5 to 1 that means that by the time that final flight landed in Heathrow, it is fair to surmise that those original 50 passengers have probably infected 150 more. Upon arrival at the airport, all those passengers received no health checks of any kind, no leaflet or advice telling them to self-quarantine, nothing. Oh, one exception. They were constantly badgered to stay 2 metres apart when queuing for Passport Control, a bit fucking late in the day, perhaps!
This is what makes a mockery of all the government advice in the U.K. My friends waited in the passport queue with a family of 4 who had travelled from Australia and was taking public transport from Heathrow to Durham because of course, none of their friends or family is allowed to drive down and pick them up from the airport. Obviously, it’s a no brainer. It makes far more sense to let 4 people wander around on tubes, trains and buses infecting as many people as they can meet than allowing one person from their immediate family to drive down and collect them! At least it does in the U.K, apparently.
Coming back to Malta. The country acted very quickly when it came to travel restrictions. So quickly that many holidaymakers in early March arrived to find themselves quarantined in their hotel rooms for the entire duration of their holiday, unfortunate, uncomfortable but necessary. Malta like many countries refused to allow cruise ships to disembark, restricted access to ferries from Sicily and to and from sister island Gozo. On St Patricks Day (17th March) they closed all the bars, restaurants, church and other public gatherings and of course feasts and festivals were cancelled. Fines for people breaching quarantine rose from €1,000 to €3,000. All very good, solid and decisive decisions and actions by the government and their advisors.
A few weeks ago they introduced on the spot fines of €30 each for people gathering in groups (non-domiciled family or similar) of more than 5. About 10 days ago this regulation was decreased to groups of no more than 3. They’ve been proactive and have police and local enforcement officers patrolling the streets and towns reassuring people and issuing fines. There is no second chance here; if you are caught in breach you are fined. No discussion. They now have helicopters flying along the coastline checking beaches and seafronts for gatherings and directing the police resources accordingly. As they should.
But, Malta has thus far trusted people to be responsible so only the idiots, the half-wits and those who think they are above the law are being penalised. It’s not been easy here in Malta, but I think it has worked. There are challenges ahead, many people (myself included) live hand to mouth in Malta and 10’s of thousands are now out of work with no income and no light at the end of the tunnel. Malta hasn’t gone all gooey like the UK and basically offered billions in handouts to just about anyone who can apply. About 40,000+ individuals have been prioritised for the equivalent of the U.K furlough system but that is a very small % of those who are quickly descending into financial crisis. People who I work with have applied for assistance through the formal system and have interviews (yep, face to face) scheduled for June and July. Many have no income now, imagine how they are going to be surviving come July! We have lots of challenges here, the Government haven’t always made the right decisions at the right time, but they are genuinely doing their best and residents both Maltese and expatriates are generally for the majority of their time taking this seriously and doing their best to comply.
At least in Malta, if you’re a responsible adult you can go for a walk, find an isolated rocky outcrop and sea fish or read a book to pass some time and get some sun on your face. It’s small things that mean so much and so far it seems to be working. You can take a wander down the seafront and grab a beer (as long as you maintain safe-distancing) and happily walk along having a chat with your housemate or partner. Yes, of course, there has been public outcry over the decision to allow 6,500 hunters to roam the countryside (thus excluding access to the general public) to shoot 5,000 quails. It’s a deeply rooted discord in Malta, is that really necessary, should anyone really in this age be shooting migrating birds, do you really need 6,500 hunters and 3 weeks of exclusive access to the countryside to shoot 5,000 birds! But, at least we are being treated like adults. There will always be those idiots, like the group of 5 British ex-pats I came across yesterday who were sitting together with their dogs and a pile of empty beer cans as if they were on holiday. And no, they don’t live together, I know them from a certain local bar. It irks me that they are all in their mid to late 60’s so should know better and of course, fall into the most vulnerable category. But hey, idiots attract idiots. It’s the old adage isn’t it; what do you get if 2 half-wits breed! God, imagine their children.
However, we can rest assured in Malta that those who breach the rules are punished. We can relax safe in the knowledge that if you return here from overseas you won’t be allowed to wander around supermarkets infecting people. Generally, as a rule, the media here has refrained from constantly trying to undermine the government, ridicule policy and find means and ways to exaggerate the situation to fit their own political agenda. Unlike the U.K on all counts. The constant bombardment of fake news appears to be much lower in Malta, judging by my various social media streams. We don’t have imbeciles like Amanda Holden (X-Factor) with no scientific understanding or education posting entirely unfounded accusations about 5G being the cause and to the end, we as yet don’t have people burning down telecoms towers. Unlike India, our paramedics aren’t being stoned in the streets and having their homes set on fire by superstitious and religiously misguided zealots.
I’ve thought about trying to get a repatriation flight back home, but I watch and listen to idiots like Robert Peston who doesn’t understand the difference between an antibody and an antigen criticise the countries very best medical professionals and every government minister on every single policy. I read the abject nonsense written by the gutter press trying to create a panic out of a pandemic because the Prime Minister is in hospital. I’ve sadly watched that moronic imbecile Piers Morgan lambast the Secretary of State about who would press the button if the U.K needed to launch a nuclear missile when it’s the most inane point and to waste that Ministers valuable time pursuing stories that don’t exist in order to feed the needs of those viewers at home that find genuine news channels too intellectually challenging. I observe all of the things happening in the U.K and thank my lucky stars that I’m here in Malta, safe and sound and to an extent free to be and to behave like the adult that I am.
We’re getting there, wherever there may be. It’s going to take a long time for Malta to recover and I suspect it will be September if not later before we see tourists begin to return and the hospitality industry to begin picking up the pieces. But I have every confidence that somehow we will get through this together. I have no doubts that in years to come we will reflect on this and in bars over a bottle of Cisk regale people with stories of how Malta and all its citizens stood proud and overcame this challenging time as one, together.