[WATCH] Social media comments on coronavirus ‘way off’, health authorities say

Maltese health experts on infection control say the coronavirus is not a ‘scary virus’ but that its novelty demands monitoring

Chris Barbara showing the screening test for Covid-19. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Chris Barbara showing the screening test for Covid-19. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
No cause for alarm on coronavirus, public health superinterdent says

Comments about the novel coronavirus doing the rounds on social media have been described as “way off” as Facebook groups about the infection have been spreading misinformation.

Prof. Michael Borg, an expert in infection control said that the virus that originated in Wuhan in China is not a scary one despite the hysterical reactions on social media where people have been urging the use of face masks, and the hoarding and stockpiling of food and sanitary products amongst other things.

“The amount of fake news on social media about this is phenomenal. In the evening, I either start laughing or start crying. There’s a difference between being vigilant and being afraid. This is a new virus but comments on social media boards are way off. There is nobody infected yet and Malta is taking all the precautions necessary,” Borg said, adding that stockpiling on food was not a new phenomenon but also “completely unneeded.”

Speaking at a press conference at the Superintendent of Public Health’s Office in St Luke’s, Borg said that all individuals complaining of coronavirus-like symptoms (fatigue, coughing, shortness of breath, and fever) have been tested and tests have all resulted in the negative.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of people sporting masks now. Masks won’t help. The most important thing now is the hands, whether they are regularly cleaned with water and soap,” Borg said.

He announced that the tests being carried out are the most sensitive tests presently used in science, known as a realtime PCR, where the smallest viral load could be caught even during the incubation period.

44 tests were carried out on Tuesday as part of sentinel surveillance where a random group of people are checked to make sure that the virus is not surreptitiously spreading amongst the population.

(Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
(Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

Besides this, Borg said, 350 nurses and other medical staff in the country had been thoroughly trained to adopt a procedure to deal with coronavirus. Medical staff at three units at Mater Dei hospital were receiving one-to-one training.

“The screening test for covid-19 takes two hours. If it’s positive, two confirmatory tests are carried out. Each confirmatory test takes a further two hours. Our checks are in line with all the rest in the European Union.

“Despite this, we are still telling people not to travel to countries where there is an active transmission of the virus,” Borg said.

He insisted that the virus was not a “scary” one and that the small number of deaths were resulting due to co-morbidity, when underlying problems and a weak immune system allow the virus to infiltrate the lungs. This, he explained, was not a common occurrence.

The Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci, said that people coming in from countries where the coronavirus transmission is active should perform self-quarantine.

“People coming in from these countries—Japan, China, Singapore, Northern Italy, South Korea, and Iran—should stay at home in order to limit contact with people.”

Gauci announced that a makeshift clinic was set up at the Malta International Airport where incoming traffic was going through a system of nurses presence. The system of thermal screening was also put in place, where all passengers coming in to Malta were walking across a camera that could detect a person’s internal temperature.

“From Wednesday, this system will also be used with individuals coming in via cruise-liners and the catamaran from Sicily,” she said.

Commenting on the chandlers and port workers who refused to climb aboard vessels bringing cargo from Italy on Monday, Gauci said that all vessels provided a maritime declaration before they entered the local ports.

She said that the helpline available for the general public—21324086—was very active and that it has been strengthened in recent days.

She announced that Malta has a very strong stock of testing equipment and that medical professionals were carrying out a pilot study, where people who presently have the common cold are also being tested, even though these individuals had not been to countries where the infection was spreading.

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