On March 7, 2020 Malta registered its first coronavirus case after an Italian 12-year-old girl tested positive. Many braced themselves for the worst, but few could have forecast what would lay in store. A year down the line there have been around 23,000 infections, over 320 deaths, and the number of active cases steadily hovered above 2,500.

This is especially surprising as in the weeks that followed the outbreak, the situation was solidly under control. According to the World Health Organisation between March and July 1, 2020, there had been 669 cases and 9 deaths. These number pale in comparison to the last four months when the rates were staggering: 16,000 cases and more than 250 deaths. On March 4, a new high was set – 362 cases in one day.

The question beckons: Where did it go wrong? While we are no medical experts, it is a fact that at one point government threw caution to the wind. The Deputy Prime Minister’s remark made on June 1, that Malta had won the war against COVID-19 is coming back to haunt him. What followed this strategic shift in government’s position was bewildering, such as the decision to promote Malta as a party destination! It turned out Malta had won the battle not the war. Despite calls from doctors to take a more cautious approach, government continued to convey mixed messages. When the situation was close to becoming desperate bars and clubs were ordered to close. Soon emerged this was a half-baked measure as exceptions were being made, on the pretext that certain establishments were regulated by different licences. Meanwhile, thousands were flocking to Gozo to party between Christmas and New Year, but this time around, unlike what had happened in April, non-essential travel to Gozo was not banned. As if government was in denial it even organised Christmas in City. At one point, authorities tried to persuade the public that keeping schools open was needed to keep numbers down. Eventually, reality started to bite. Despite the launch of the vaccination programme, numbers continued to rise with the weekly moving average exceeding 200 for the first time last week. Once again, government’s decision was not to err on the side of caution. It announced that in March restaurant opening hours would be extended further and perspex shields in home for the elderly would be removed. Once again doctors sounded the alarm bells saying such measures are premature, while warning that hospitals may soon reach breaking point. For the umpteenth time, such concerns were brushed aside, with government blaming the UK variant for the persistent high numbers being registered. It was only when there was a public outcry that government reacted albeit belatedly and in weak fashion by reintroducing some restrictions.

We have been here before and the writing is on the wall. Unless there is political commitment to take matters seriously, this chapter will take much longer to come to an end. It is unconceivable how such populist approach is being taken by a prime minister who has publicly expressed his ambition for Malta to be business as usual by May. Indeed, it is a tale of two realities: one from Castille and one from the deep end of the fight against COVID-19.