For many months, Charmaine Gauci was the comfort of the nation.
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when little was known about the virus and there was a collective panic even when the daily number of new cases exceeded 10, she was instrumental in getting things in order.
Gauci used to appear on national TV every day, giving details about the cases and instilling a sense of confidence that, yes, it’s a difficult battle, but it will be overcome. Her demeanour had a calming effect that was appreciated by many.
She was on the front line of the front-liners, and it must have been a difficult time for her, being at the helm of a health sector that was under great stress, especially in the days and weeks when waves of cases hit the islands.
Little by little, Gauci was withdrawn from the public and, other than a weekly question and answer session on Times of Malta, she is no longer available. The occasions she attends when something important about Covid-19 is to be said have been limited. These days Health Minister Chris Fearne appears on his own when some restrictions are to be eased or added.
What was always evident, even in the earlier stages of the pandemic, was that Gauci was not comfortable in replying to certain questions. It could be that her role as a civil servant precluded her from being more forthcoming, but it was clear that at times she was holding back.
This was especially so when she was asked the more pertinent questions, the ones that required a forceful answer. In spite of having a crucial role in the battle against Covid-19, Gauci did not – and does not – have the courage to take the bull by the horns.
She is reluctant, just to give the latest example, to tell MPs to wear masks when in the House of Representatives. She has told PN whip Robert Cutajar that questions regarding protocols should be addressed to the Speaker while at the same time saying that legislation related to the pandemic should be observed. But, with the Speaker seemingly unwilling to take action, Gauci has not – at least in public – told the Speaker to perform his duties.
It is then no wonder that if the top people in the country do not follow the rules, others will believe that they are entitled to do the same.
What happened at the Sigma conference is also a stain on the health authorities, which seemed unable to control a situation which saw regulations being ignored from start to finish. This happened at a time when the number of daily cases was on the rise, and yet the health authorities headed by Gauci turned a blind eye.
Gauci, and all the people behind her, including medical staff, continue to carry out sterling work for the benefit of the community. But she appears to be toothless – or perhaps, is afraid to affront the situation head-on – when it comes to dealing with politicians or events which the government is backing in full force, such as the Sigma conference.
We believe that Gauci should show more mettle in these circumstances.