Last year, the word “vaccine” topped the list of the most searched words on the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Unsurprisingly, in 2020 the word of the year was “pandemic”. So, what is in store for the next 12 months?

This time last year the world, not least Malta, greeted the Covid-19 vaccine as the messiah. With it expectations of some sort of return to normality sky rocketed, aided at times by over-optimistic forecasts by politicians who were keen to put the pandemic behind them. At the time we were also told, by the health authorities that even a single doze would work wonders, though it was made clear from day one that in order to achieve maximum protection, the second doze was needed.  However, as months rolled by, uncertainty started raising its head once again with the emergence of the delta variant.  As the optimism faded away and infections started rising,  it was decided to give the booster. Initially, it was only for the elderly and vulnerable, but eventually the roll-out was made across all ages.

The emergence of the omicron variant struck another blow to any lingering hopes of some sort of recovery as the virus started spreading at unprecedented rates. In Malta, over 4,000 new cases were around Christmas. Fortunately, this new variant does not seem to be as deadly as the delta. Nevertheless, the rate of hospitalization rose as and the number of deaths likewise.

Whether we like it or not we have had to adapt to this pandemic. Those who did not, did so at their own peril.  But not everyone has navigated the disruption successfully. It is a sobering reality, for example, that mental health problems have grown in the last two years. With hindsight authorities would think twice before imposing a full lockdown once again. While this has proven to be a good measure to stop the spread in the immediate term, the long-term repercussions are only emerging now. Apart from the economic aspects, prolonged isolation has resulted in a rise in social problems like domestic violence. Children too, bore the brunt of the pandemic as online learning proved to be less effective as traditional face-to-face schooling. This disruption has left a social scar and led to negative repercussions from an academic perspective as the quality of teaching suffered.

Uncertainty is the only thing that seems permanent. 2022 presents us with more hopes and challenges. On one hand we are being told that the booster doze is the way forward, but at the same time the situation remains very volatile. What if a new variant emerges? Meanwhile, economists and governments are scratching their heads as more often than not their forecasts are being thrown out of the window and go back to the drawing board. Furthermore, the coffers are drying up, meaning that the more this pandemic goes on, debt levels keep soaring while the available war chest to support ailing sectors diminishes.

2022 will probably be remembered as the year of the “booster” if not “boosters”. One thing is sure. We must keep learning to live with the uncertainty and to manage it pragmatically. Moreover, authorities must state all the facts, lead by example and stick to scientific advice. There have been too many instances of double standards. We may only win this war if we stick together.

Unfortunately, recent experience such as the decision to postpone the physical opening of schools and childcare centres does not bode well. No consultation whatsoever was made with employers or general unions with the result that employees with nobody to look after their children ended up in an awkward situation. Consequently, employees will be forced to take leave. Worse than that who will shoulder responsibility if leave is refused? This is the context against which UHM Voice of the Workers issued a directive to working parents, whereby if none of them are in a position to look after their children (up to 12 years) one of them must be given telework until the situation is remedied.