Superintendence refusing to release data on COVID-19 ventilation inspections

MaltaToday Freedom of Information request for risk assessments, inspections into hospital ventilation systems, refused

A Freedom of Information request on advice provided by the Public Health Superintendent on the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in May, and on inspections into the hospital’s ventilation units was rejected by the health superintendence.

In June, MaltaToday reported that a cluster of COVID-19 cases traced back to Mater Dei Hospital’s ENT ward, was being investigated by the health authorities to determine the source of the “exceptional outbreak”.

There were 18 positive cases of coronavirus linked to the ENT ward, which deals with ailments related to the ear, nose and throat.

Mater Dei CEO Celia Falzon confirmed the outbreak to MaltaToday.

She was responding to a series of questions after MaltaToday received information that the hospital’s Infection Control Unit only acted five days after a doctor in the ward resulted positive.

The doctor tested positive on 5 May but his colleagues only got to know five days later, when other cases cropped up.

Sources who spoke to MaltaToday said that a nurse who tested positive after learning of the first case had been working throughout those five days.

Initial information received by MaltaToday in May had suggested that the outbreak might have stemmed from an issue with the ward’s ventilation system.

However, when asked about this, Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci could only confirm that an investigation by hospital’s infection control specialists was underway.

The result of the investigations has not yet been made public.

In the FOI request, MaltaToday had also inquired for a list of all healthcare workers infected by COVID-19. The request was refused.

The precise reason was not specified by the superintendence, which instead referred to two parts of the Freedom of Information Act which cite reasons for withholding information ranging from national security to trade secrets.

MaltaToday’s FOI request rejection follows that of other media houses, with the Times of Malta also being shot down when probing about the government’s transition plan and risk assessments for easing coronavirus restrictions.

The Nationalist Party’s newsroom also requested the information to no avail.

Fielding questions from journalists after announcing new measures on Thursday, Health Minister Chris Fearne was asked why government is refusing to publish the risk assessment.

Fearne did not cite the reason why, instead choosing to point out that government has always been transparent over the COVID-19 figures.

“You cannot say that we are hiding information from anyone,” the deputy prime minister said.

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