Health authorities worried about people not turning up for COVID-19 tests

A worrying trend of people not turning up at swabbing centres for coronavirus testing despite having symptoms has become more apparent over the weekend • Charmaine Gauci appeals for people not to miss appointments

Malta has been testing profusely, making it one of the top three European countries for the number of COVID-19 tests (File photo)
Malta has been testing profusely, making it one of the top three European countries for the number of COVID-19 tests (File photo)

There have been several cases of people not turning up at COVID-19 swabbing centres, a trend that has the health authorities worried, MaltaToday has learnt.

This development comes on the back of falling infection numbers that suggest Malta has managed to control the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have had people who were given an appointment at the swabbing centres because they had symptoms but failed to turn up at the given time,” Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci told MaltaToday.

Not all these people are likely to have COVID-19 but unless tested we will never know and they could potentially still be spreading the virus. She said that the excuse often given by these people when contacted is that symptoms have gone away.

“It is true that in some instances symptoms go away but if the person has COVID-19 they will still be infectious to others and this, risks perpetuating community spread,” Gauci warned.

Over the past couple of days, Gauci has been appealing to people indicated for testing to turn up and remain quarantined at home until the results are out.

She reiterated that appeal during Monday’s daily bulletin when she noted that the number of people coming forward for tests during weekends was relatively low.

She emphasised that anyone having symptoms should speak up, regardless what day of the week it was and urged people not to miss their testing appointments.

"It is important for people to turn up for tests because that is the only way we can find those who are infected and isolate them," she told MaltaToday.

Malta has been testing profusely, making it one of the top three European countries for the number of COVID-19 tests it has carried out since the start of the pandemic.

However, Gauci has warned that although aggressive contact tracing takes place there have been instances when the source of infection in some patients remains unknown, indicating that there is undetected community spread, which makes social distancing important.

Malta has reported 431 cases of COVID-19 since the first case was recorded on 7 March. This includes three people who died and 126 who have fully recovered from the virus. Two remain in intensive care but are doing fine.

Despite the positive numbers, the health authorities have so far been reluctant to ease restrictive measures.

Health Minister Chris Fearne gave an indication last Thursday that some restrictions may start to be lifted in the “coming weeks” but gave no timeline and was very cautious as to how this will be achieved.

The World Health Organisation has urged countries to test profusely, adopt aggressive contact tracing to identify positive cases and isolate them and maintain restrictions to ensure social distancing.

The WHO regional office for Europe has urged a cautious approach to lifting of restrictions and not before countries can show they are able to fulfil six criteria, including the ability to seek positive cases and isolate them, and protect the more vulnerable.

Some European countries have started to gradually lift restrictions but the fear remains that of a resurgence of the virus, which is why the importance of sustained testing cannot be understated.