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MALTATODAY 12 December 2021

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maltatoday | SUNDAY • 12 DECEMBER 2021 COMMENT What are we skinning? The recently re-imposed rule of obligatory mask-wearing in public spaces, to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Why are we skinning it? Because it is arguably the first obvious misfire by our government, in what was an otherwise sensible approach to deflecting the worst of what the pandemic could potentially have to offer. Come on, it's not like the government's response has been perfect all throughout the course of COVID's two-year reign (and counting)... I never said that. But while other mistakes – and some infelicitous statements on the part of the authorities – may have come across badly, you could argue that they're largely attributable to the ever-shifting nature of the pandemic. How is this different, then? Well for starters, it is ultimately a rather weak restriction - given that it is the only new one, appearing in isolation – and its ultimate endgame would be to stoke further irritation, more than anything else. But we have to mask up in shops, offices, cinemas and theatres – is this really too much of an imposition? Safety measures should never be looked at as an imposition. So what's the issue, then? The farcical image of people being forced to wear masks while walking across the few bits of unspoilt countryside we have left – now that the weather occasionally allows for such a heartening traipse – will unfortunately be the iconic image that emerges from the implications of this restriction, no matter how hard the authorities try to convince us otherwise. But wearing masks in winter means you effectively get a handy windbreaker attached to your face. Win-win as far as I'm concerned. Not the point. You're meant to tell me you've never draped a scarf over your nose and mouth when it got particularly blustery outside? There's a difference between a deliberate action taken out of individual choice in response to an immediate logistical concern or reality, and one which is imposed arbitrarily by central government for reasons that appear to be more strongly influenced by factors of reputational management rather than scientific evidence. Reputational management? Isn't there a new COVID variant doing the rounds all over the world right now? That seems like a pretty definite logistical concern to me… Omicron is certainly something we should take seriously, and even Health Minister Chris Fearne said it would be "naive" to assume that it will never reach our shores. But masking up in the countryside hardly constitutes a secret weapon against this new variant. So you would have been happier with even harsher restrictions? 'Happier' may not be the right word. But I would certainly have taken government more seriously if they proposed something which isn't a de facto band-aid solution. We're trying to 'save Christmas', aren't we? If I can't walk through Majjistral without being allowed to breathe in some fresh air while the sound of diggers is conspicuously absent, maybe Christmas isn't worth saving after all. Do say: "While sensible restrictions which can help keep the threat of COVID at bay are certainly to be welcomed, embraced and followed to the letter, these need to be based on hard science while also respecting the overall socio- economic fabric of the given country. Sure, 'masks in the countryside' don't hurt business, but they will ultimately come across as a 'too little too late' imposition that runs the risk of stoking the ire of lunatic fringe, anti-vaxxer sentiment." Don't say: "Be it COVID masks, ODZ development and 'Privat: Tidholx' signs, the ruling powers to be appear to primarily be waging a war on our ability to enjoy the countryside more than anything else." 'Money talks' but people are louder CLAIRE BONELLO PGS 8 & 9 The Skinny Malta, shrunk down JOSANNE CASSAR Would I lie to you? How trust in governments has been eroded PAGE 6 MICHAEL FALZON A tradition of petty corruption PAGE 7 No 117 – Masks in the Countryside SAVIOUR BALZAN 'Privet' property PAGE 5 EDITORIAL Pipeline: a sober discussion on our energy future PAGE 2 The system hasn't changed at all. It is still geared up only for the churning out of development permits, come what may… overriding all environmental or heritage concerns

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