“Epidemics, have a way of revealing hidden truths about the societies they impact”

In Mellieha, Malta – Spring has finally sprung and I’m sitting out on the terrace watching the gentle April breeze sway the trees whilst listening to the wonderful sounds of birds chirping.

It’s been just over a month since the first case of Coronavirus was first detected here on the island. Sadly there have been three deaths and over 300 new cases.

Life as we know it has changed, terms such as “social distancing” “self isolating and “quarantining” have been injected into our vocabulary. Now, it’s not only the chicken who crosses the road to get to the other side. We humans must also cross the road… to maintain a two metre gap.

Sure we’ve heard of the Spanish Flu, Black Death or Bubonic Plague but until now, they were just stories.

Seemingly stories of a very different time. An almost prehistoric-like time where people didn’t have access to medicines or vaccines or basic sanitation.

Yet here we are with no access to medicines, vaccines  (for coronavirus) with the advice to stay inside and Wash Our Hands. Advice so simple it’s almost unfathomable.

Meanwhile in a bid to “flatten the curve” (another word for the vocabulary), there have been academic closures. Bars and restaurants have had to close and sporting and music events have been cancelled.

Owing to the advice to stay inside, more people are working from home. The streets are eerily silent bar the sounds of a pneumatic drill as the invincible Construction Industry rumbles on.

Maltas’ History of Pandemics

Even if we have not lived through an epidemic before, the Maltese archipelago has certainly experienced this before.

There have been four outbreaks of plague in: 1592-1593, 1623, 1655 and 1676. Recently in 1813-1814, the plague had a mortality rate of 5%, killing just under 5000 of Malta’s 100,000 population.


Unprecedented Times

Less than 100 years ago, after the Spanish Flu had ravaged the world, Malta saw another plague hit the island.
Beginning in 1936, and lingering on until 1937 it claimed the lives of 12 people.

Nowadays, everyone everywhere describes this new reality as “living in unprecedented times”. Fear and uncertainty occupies spaces once filled with the chitter and chatter of everyday life.

Conspiracy theories have also emerged since China has proclaimed themselves heroes for enlightening the world. Even though this fast moving disease was first detected in Wuhan, China.

People behave oddly when they’re afraid. Don’t believe me? Just observe yourself when someone gets too close or dare I saycoughs.
Borders between neighbouring countries have been shut, severing ties whilst nationalism and patriotism takes hold.

Veil of invisibility

Oddly, the invisibility of this epidemic reminds me of a game I played in primary school when it rained and we were unable to go outside. Wink murder – a game where the teacher secretly chose a pupil to become a “murderer” simply by winking at the “victim”.

During the game, the rest of the classmates act like detectives in order to “”track” down the killer. As the deaths mounted up around us, the class would almost always descend into chaos. Resulting in us blaming this person and that, in fear we would be next.

Despite the similarities this isn’t a game. For many of our wishes to become invisible for a day, invisibility tends to make us susceptible to fear.

We don’t know what’s coming or what to expect. Instead of relying on logic without self awareness, our primal reptilian brains can become engaged making us easier to manipulate.

Fear of the unknown is scary, it reminds us of how little control we have. It reminds us of our vulnerability, which in itself can be terrifying. This fear coupled with hate-filled ideology, is the perfect recipe to control a group of people.

Stories have surfaced of desperate African migrants storming Europe and infecting the population. (This is despite the fact Africa has considerably less COVID-19 cases).

Politicians have made it clear that “charity begins at home” with dangerous sweeping statements that foreign worker job losses caused by the epidemic “may lead to a spike in criminality”. Epidemics, have a way of revealing hidden truths about the societies they impact.

Then and now

Some people believe that life is one big cycle with stories and events repeating themselves over and over. A quick look back into history shows during the plague of 1936, people feared going into isolation avoiding it at all costs.

Similarly to the now “corona idiots” to which they are referred, people acted just as irresponsibly. Concealing their illness, they went about their lives without much thought that their actions would have on others.

Back then, sentences were much harsher than maximum 3000 EUR fine for flouting quarantine rules – which was punishable by death.

In recent days an entire migrant centre housing over 1000 asylum seekers and refugees was placed into full lockdown for 14 days after eight residents tested positive, bearing all the hallmarks of the “herd immunity” model British Prime Minister Boris Johnson did a U-turn on.

Meanwhile, despite the cancellation of sporting events worldwide, thousands of people from the Maltese islands take to the countryside this Easter weekend to hunt quail.

In 1936, two doctors were found to have been bribed into turning a blind eye to sick people and endangering the lives of the rest of society.

Who’s fault is it anyway?

Humans have an inherent need to make sense of events, resulting in inevitable blame. During the Black Death, Jews were vilified resulting in dire vigilante attacks.

In 2009 Swine Flu was initially blamed on Mexicans as a result of writers referring to the disease as Mexican Flu. They too were treated unfavourably with the American government closing its borders, and Europe advising tourists not to travel there.

History shows us time and time again, the potential for vigilante attacks on nations demonised for causing a pandemic. Still…Donald Trump continues to refer to the coronavirus as ”Wuhan Flu” and “Chinese Flu”

So yes, epidemics do have a tendency to highlight societys dysfunction otherwise hidden under the guise of everyday life. Whilst it’s difficult to unsee what has been brought to light, what is clear to see is: we will beat this virus.

Although a global pandemic, this is playing out differently everywhere all over the world. I would love to hear more about how this outbreak is affecting you. Tell me in the comments. 🙂

Keep washing those hands and stay safe.

Love and light,