A crisis situation demands clarity from the people at the top of the chain of command. It is important for communities and organisations alike to find a sense of assurance in their leaders as they are looking into the void of uncertainty.
Authorities in Malta have largely handled the coronavirus emergency well, walking the tightrope between urgency and calm with composure. Thankfully, we have been spared overconfident missteps that are costing other countries dearly. Meanwhile, the initial general anxiety that led to embarrassing scenes of panic buying in the early days has also been skilfully tamed.
It has not all been easy sledding, though, and over the past month there have been several occasions where official statements unfolded into conflicting messages, backpedalling and vacillation that confound the business community as well as the wider population.
Indecision over a request by the MSC Opera in March to enter harbour after it had self-quarantined off Greece led to an unnecessary standoff between the doctors’ association and government. The apparent procrastination to ban travel from high-risk areas and, later, to close down borders did not do much to inspire confidence either.
There were mixed messages in formal declarations, too. The government announced a third relief package days Cabinet ministers implied on the record that the current administration had done enough for businesses over the previous seven years. The Economy Minister, then, put himself into an unhelpful position where he had to eat his words but not before having to issue a public apology to third-country nationals.
The transport authority came out looking two-headed after the to-and-fro about driving lessons in the time of social distancing. Meanwhile, bracketing the construction industry and the hunting community out of the whole Covid-19 scenario that the rest of the country has had to adapt to, was always going to raise questions.
The confusion that comes with take-backs was most evident on the eve of an impending lockdown for vulnerable people and those living with them. The Prime Minister effectively downsized the measures live on national television 24 hours after they had been originally announced by his deputy, who also happens to be Health Minister.
As the coronavirus train picks up speed, the country cannot take any more dithering. It is true situation is developing at breakneck pace and decisions will inevitably need to be reviewed hour-by-hour, but that does not make abrupt pivoting acceptable.
In this maelstrom, leaders have an obligation to lift the collective spirit and demonstrate that they are, at least, in control of the factors within their own powers.