Malta Diary “We may not die of the coronavirus but may well die of all the anxiety caused by reports about it”
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It has been a week of wholesale panic, mixing together a weekend of Carnival, Ash Wednesday and the outbreak of the coronavirus! There has been joviality, sobriety, anxiety, hysteria, rumours, downright lies and inventions and an amazing stampede to stockpile foodstuffs, disinfectants and … toilet paper!
Had we been living 200 years ago, Malta and Gozo would probably have heard of the outbreak of the coronavirus two or three months after it happened. In 2020 we came to know about it just a few seconds after the first announcement. That is called Advanced Technology, Freedom of Speech, Liberty of Expression and all the nonsense that modern life and living is surrounded with. By the way, it is also called Progress.
On the announcement, the world’s media, both official as well as social, went berserk with a flood of reports to create sensationalism, sell newspapers, swell radio and television audiences and – naturally – to exploit the commercial and political opportunities created.
The reports varied from official statements that everything is under control to continual media postings that the spread of coronavirus is rapidly swelling to social media postings that the end of the world is looming, that the true facts are being hidden and many based on the framework that “I heard that a friend of mine had heard from a friend of his that he had heard from a clinic where a doctor had said …” and on and on it goes.
The most apt social media posting I have come across was posted by a friend of mine Michael Psaila who wrote “We may not die of the coronavirus but may well die of all the anxiety caused by reports about it”. Too true!
Malta and Gozo are small islands in the centre of the Mediterranean isolated from the European and African mainland and this may be viewed as an advantage. In fact, that is detrimental. The Islands rely on incoming tourism; Maltese people love to travel for their holiday breaks; entrepreneurs have to travel and visit and many, many things including foodstuffs and clothing have to be imported.
The Valletta Grand Harbour relies on incoming cruise ships, the country’s Freeport is a depot for freight ships transit and commodities unloading. The so-called “sealing of borders” is totally impossible. Over the centuries the Islands have been crossroads and none more than today. Isolation is simply not possible.
Entrenched in the minds of people are the historical chronicles that details Malta being hit by various epidemics including the plague, yellow fever and cholera and even in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries the commandeering Knight Hospitaliers of the Order of St John of Jerusalem operated a system of quarantine on incoming ships as well as building the Lazaretto Isolation Hospital for diseased patients.
On his first visit to Malta on his way to the wars in Greece, the famed Lord Byron cursed the authorities because he was confined on board his ship together with all crew and passengers because of an outbreak of yellow fever.
There was also the infamous record of wholesale panic in the 19th Century when several people were buried alive at Kalkara on the perception they had and were spreading cholera and years later inhabitants in the area swore they heard screams and wails at night.
Such chronicles naturally are contributing to the current panic. As matters stand now, at the moment of writing although a number of incoming people have been quarantined as a precaution, there has not been one case of coronavirus recorded.
HOWEVER, the World Health Organisation has clearly warned that eventually the virus will be present in every country in the world. So, it is just a matter of time …
Meanwhile, the hysteria, hype, lies and panic continues. Many people were led to believe the virus originated because the Wuhan Chinese had boiled and eaten nocturnal bats – which is not true. Later, that the Chinese are killing all animals – not true either.
The most bizarre is that the Chinese have been crushing and mashing human remains and passing these off as a form of corned beef! Yet, there is nothing new in the world. Many years ago the scare went about that human remains were being dragged out of the River Ganges, the corpses dried and then the dried bones crushed and powdered to be used as jelly powder!
On and on it goes.
N.B. Supermarket pictures snapped by my brother Edward Fenech during the week.
“Hear all but believe what you want to believe”
An apt description for the current situation!