Daily COVID cases spike fortnight after election announcement

Two weeks into the 2022 general election campaign, average daily number of COVID cases jump to 185

The last two years have been dominated by the long shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in the last month, the Maltese people’s focus shifted towards the 2022 General Election campaign.

Now, a trend of recent cases is once again lifting its head slowly, yet a reminder that the virus has not been eradicated.

But in the last week alone, new cases topped the 300-mark in a single day for the first time in two months, and over 1,000 new cases were recorded over the whole week.

Data shows that nearly two weeks after the election was called on 20 February, daily new cases recorded an increase.

The daily average number of new cases from the 20 February to 6 March stood at 87.4, while the average number of new cases from 7 March to 19 March stands at 185.8, almost doubling.

The cases coincide with the lifting of coronavirus restrictions: on the 7 February, the country no longer required patrons of snack bars, restaurants, and social events to present a vaccination certificate.

Health authorities also lifted the vaccine certificate requirement for people to access bars.

On the 7 March, quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated persons who have been in contact with an infected person was dropped, and masks were no longer mandatory in public places. Masks are now only mandatory indoors and during mass events.

Despite the public health restrictions, political events and rallies by the major political parties are attracting large groups of people, who flout rules for the wearing of masks and on seating allocation irrespectively of repeated warnings.

Health Minister Chris Fearne earlier this week attributed the increase in cases to a new, slightly more contagious strain of the Omicron variant, coinciding with a wave of cold weather and relaxation of measures. He said cases should stabilise in the coming weeks.

Public health authorities have called for “gatherings” to be avoided “wherever possible” during the electoral campaign.

And despite such warnings, political parties themselves continue to organise mass events on an almost daily basis, sometimes rallying hundreds of supporters in enclosed areas such as the Kordin Pavilion.

But Malta is not the only country to record a surge in cases, with an increasing number being attributed to the prevalence of a “stealth” sub-variant of the omicron strain.

COVID cases have increased dramatically in the U.K. in recent weeks, while Germany continues to mark record high daily infections with more than 250,000 new cases a day. Elsewhere, France, Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands are also seeing COVID infections start to rise again, aided and abetted by the relaxation of coronavirus measures and the spread of a new sub-variant of omicron, known as BA.2.

Danish scientists believe that the BA.2 sub-variant is 1½ times more transmissible than the original omicron strain, and is already overtaking it. The BA.2 variant is now responsible for over half of the new cases in Germany and makes up around 11% of cases in the U.S.