’We are prepared for the first cases of Covid-19 in Malta,’ Public Health Superintendent says

Virus expert Chris Barbara said that when a country is prepared for a virus, the level of infections will be much lower

Malta is prepared to start dealing with the first cases of Covid-19 in the country, Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci said. 

“We are prepared for the start of the first cases in the country,” she said, adding that out of 56 swabs, all resulted in the negative, and that no such cases have been reported yet.

Personal protective equipment ships have been arriving in Malta, Gauci announced, and that a total of 16 High Efficiency Particulate Matter Air filters have arrived, which will help ventilation in hospital halls hosting coronavirus patients.

“Extra beds are also being brought to Malta in case of the epidemic reaching the country. Now is the moment for preparation because preparation takes time. We can’t wait for it to reach Malta before we start preparations,” Gauci said, addressing a press conference at the Health Promotion and Diseases Protection Directorate on Tuesday.

“Our priority is to protect the public, but also to protect our professionals. We are still carrying out training for our medical professionals. We are carrying out this training on a one-to-one basis.”

Chris Barbara, virus expert, and clinical chairperson of the Pathology Department said that when a country is prepared for the virus, the level of infections will be much lower.

“This is a novel virus, so it can keep changing: we have already seen some mutations, differences from the virus that infected people in China and that which infected people in Europe,” Barbara said.

Gauci reiterated that Covid-19 is a mild virus, where only 5% require intensive care. 80% of cases, she said, recover without the need of hospitalisation.

The self-quarantine is not yet mandatory due to low risk, Gauci said, adding that the Superintendence of Public Health still encouraged individuals who arrive from high-risk areas — China, Singapore, Japan, Iran, South Korea and Northern Italy — to conduct a self-quarantine procedure of two weeks.

“You can’t enforce people to wash hands or cover their mouths. In the same way, we are asking for public responsibility in this matter,” she said, when responding to claims made by the Medical Association of Malta, where doctors, earlier on Tuesday, called for mandatory quarantine and flight cancellations.

“The World Health Organisations are not recommending travel bans at this stage. We are following their instructions and no other EU member state has ordered a travel ban. The reaction has to be proportionate.”

She added that it is recommended that people cancel their flights if it is not essential to travel to high-risk areas.

Gauci said that Mater Dei’s Infectious Diseases Unit has a facility of various ventilation systems that can cater for such viruses and announced that a new area is being prepared to host infected individuals in the case of an outbreak but could not give out information as to where this area would be located.

“We saw other viruses that have been far more serious which were treated in this facility,” Gauci said.

An operational committee has been launched on the recommendation of the Cabinet consisting of the permanent secretaries of various ministries. In the event that there is an outbreak in Malta, the committee will be prepared for emergency mechanisms to start operating.

“What we started doing is evaluating people on a case-by-case basis, people who have been going to certain countries and are exhibiting symptoms.

“If there’s a case, isolating the individual is not enough. Contact tracing will also take place, checks on people that have been around the individual who contracted the virus,” Gauci said. 

Rest assured, she insisted, that if there’s a coronavirus case in the country, we would hold a press conference.

The total number of Covid-19 cases, originating in Wuhan in China, now stands at 92,321, killing 3,137 individuals. 48,458 people have recovered from the virus.

South Korea and Iran have seen 851 and 835 new cases in the past few days. The UK has seen 12 new cases. Italy did not report any new cases in the last two days.