This time last year Malta entered into partial lockdown as the COVID-19 pandemic loomed on the horizon. A public health emergency was declared. Schools were closed, non-essential services and shops shut, employers strongly urged to provide telework and people ordered to stay inside. Moreover, ports were closed banning entry and exit from the island by air and sea. Even religious functions were suspended for the first time since the bubonic plague of 1813.

Though in hindsight one might argue that this was an over-reaction, the bottom line was that the situation was kept boldly under control. Scenes from the Italian city of Bergamo where the pandemic wreaked havoc, leading to a collapse of the health service while coffins piled up and corpses were being sealed off in homes. Fortunately, Malta was spared. Government had erred on the side of caution and save lives.

A year down the line and three months into the COVID-19 vaccination roll out, it is hard to believe that Malta ended up in what is arguably a much worse situation in terms of active cases and deaths. However, the writing has been on the wall ever since in June last year Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne said Malta had won the war against Covid-19 – a declaration which was in line with the Prime Minister’s over-optimistic forecasts and his business-as-usual mantra.

As months rolled by and reality started to bite with the number of cases and deaths on a steep bend upwards, the government foolishly tried to play down the situation while accusing those who were sounding the alarm bells of fomenting project fear. This false sense of security was augmented further when the vaccination programme was rolled out. Not only caution had been thrown completely to the wind, but certain statements from the health authorities – who no longer had the last say in the decision-making process after the public health emergency had been lifted – also raised eyebrows. In January, the health authorities shot down the idea to close schools saying these were contributing for the numbers to remain down! Such statement only helped to raise suspicion of political interference amid pressure to give the impression that the situation was under control at all costs even if this would mean exposing the people to unnecessary risks. Let us not forget that in January teachers went on strike, only for the government to accuse them of scaremongering. Two months later, government had to eat humble pie and restore nearly all restrictions in place last year while using the UK variants as a scapegoat.

A textbook case of going back to square one, many remarked. Not exactly. This time around air and sea travel have not been restricted, and no public health emergency has been declared. Seems like government has not learnt its lesson after all. The scenes of Bergamo could come back to haunt us.