[WATCH] First coronavirus case in Malta is confirmed in 12-year-old girl

First case of coronavirus in Malta found in 12-year-old girl who travelled to Trentino, Northern Italy, with her family in past weeks • Family self-quarantined since returning to Malta

Chris Fearne
Chris Fearne

A 12-year-old girl has tested positive for coronavirus after returning from a trip to Northern Italy, travelling back to Malta through Rome, Health Minister Chris Fearne confirmed this morning.

Covid-19 has been spreading worldwide since the start of the year, but till now there had been no confirmed cases of the virus reaching Malta's shores.

The girl, an Italian national, had during the end of February and beginning of March been on holiday with her family in Trentino, in the North of Italy. She returned to Malta on a flight from Rome on Tuesday. After returning, the girl and her family went into self-quarantine, in accordance with the current guidelines for those returning from high-risk areas.

It was only on Thursday that the girl displayed symptoms associated with coronavirus. Health authorities were alerted and tested the girl on Friday. Her tests resulted positive for Covid-19. 

Fearne said that the girl and her sister had not attended school since returning to Malta - nor had her parents gone to work - allaying fears that the virus may have spread to the girl's classmates or parents' colleagues. The girl and her family's contact with other people had been minimal, Fearne said.

He said that another individual - a Czech national - had tested negative for the virus but remained in self-quarantine, after she informed authorities that a person she recently met in Italy had contracted coronavirus.

Quick Facts

  • Girl, 12, arrived from Rome with her family after having holidayed in Trentino, in North Italy
  • Family went into self-quarantine on arrival from Italy
  • Girl had no symptoms on flight back to Malta
  • Symptoms emerged on Thursday while at home
  • Girl and her sister did not go to school after
  • Parents did not go to work either
  • Virologist Chris Barbara says transmission more likely when symptoms emerge

No need to close schools or cancel public functions, testing hub to open next week

Fearne said that there was no need for schools to be closed in the circumstances. Nor should public function, such as weddings or cinema outings, be cancelled, he said.

The Health Minister also said that a testing hub would open on Tuesday, where people could go to get swabbed and tested for the virus, without having to go to hospital or health centres.

"In the meantime, an 18-bed isolation ward has already been set up at Mater Dei Hospital, with an additional 12 beds set up at another undisclosed location," he said. "And plans are also underway to use Boffa Hospital's 60 beds should the need arise in the future."

Fearne said that more protective clothing stock would be arriving in Malta in the coming days, with 32,000 protective masks arriving on Monday.

"The EU will also be launching a joint procurement mechanism to be able to purchase protective clothing as a bloc and then distribute it to member states as needed," he said.

Non-essential travel to Asian and Italy should be curtailed

Superintendent for Health Dr Charmaine Gauci stressed the need to limit non-essential travel to Asia and Italy, particularly the regions of Piemonte, Veneto and Emilia Romagna.

"We also urge any individuals who returned from travel to these countries to self-quarantine while testing for Covid-19," she said.

“We were expecting this and did our utmost to catch it as early as possible,” Gauci said, underlining that anyone who visited locations where the virus has spread in large numbers - namely China, Singapore, Iran, South Korea and Italy, should self-quarantine and contact the health authorities.

She emphasised the need for testing to be carried out during this period, which is why the testing hub was being set up.

“80% of cases are not serious,” Gauci said, “What is killing some patients is not the virus itself, but the [combined effect of it and the] chronic illnesses they had.”

She reiterated the importance of handwashing, using alcohol rubs and wipes, and the covering of the mouth when coughing or sneezing.

There have been 101,601 infections and over 3,400 deaths registered globally to date..

Yesterday, Health Minister’s Chris Fearne, speaking at an EU Council meeting, said the EU had to focus on containment and mitigation of the virus. He underlined member states had to focus on assisting each other, especially in regions where capacity could be stretched.

Fearne said that although a coronavirus vaccine was not yet available and could be months away, the draft procurement process of the EU to purchase a vaccine once it is made available should be initiated now.

Superintendent for Health Dr Charmaine Gauci stressed the need to limit  non-essential travel to Asia and Italy, particularly the regions of Piemonte, Veneto and Emilia Romagna.

"We also urge any individuals who returned from travel to these countries to self-quarantine while testing for Covid-19," she said.

Unions react

In a joint statement, the Medical Association of Malta (MAM) and UĦM Voice of the Workers said that all local health experts had made it very clear that refusing to stop the 20 flights a week from Northern Italy, combined with a dubious voluntary quarantine, were inadequate measures destined to fail.

They appealed to the government to now heed the advice of health authorities and stop with immediate effect all flights from the high risk areas in northern Italy and implement mandatory quarantine measures where necessary according to quarantine law, so as to avoid an epidemic with grave consequences on the health of the people and on the national economy.

UĦM said it had - for the past weeks - been insisting with the health authorities to provide training and protocols to all its health employees.

"While this has worked well in some departments, there are others where it has fallen behind, the union said. "UHM requests immediate training and preparationto minimize the risk to workers and to avoid industrial action."

Head of Italy’s Democratic Party tests positive

Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of Italy’s Democratic Party, has tested positive for Covid-19.

He is the first leading Italian positive to have tested positive for the virus.

Zingaretti said that he was “fine” and in quarantine at home.

Global cases surpass 100,000

There have been more than 101,000 infections and over 3,400 deaths registered globally to date.

In comments to MaltaToday, virologist Chris Barbara said that the risk of the coronavirus being transmitted is highest once the person concerned starts displaying symptoms.

Yesterday, Health Minister’s Chris Fearne, speaking at an European Council meeting, said the EU had to focus on containment and mitigation of the virus. He underlined member states had to focus on assisting each other, especially in regions where capacity could be stretched.

Fearne said that although a coronavirus vaccine was not year available and could be months away, the draft procurement process of the EU to purchase a vaccine once it is made available should be initiated now.

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