[WATCH] Lessons learnt from COVID-19 spike in elderly care homes, Silvio Parnis insists

On TVM’s Xtra, Parliamentary Secretary for the elderly Silvio Parnis says government has ‘strengthened measures to make sure that what happened in the Fgura home does not happen again’

St Joseph Home Fgura has been at the centre of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in elderly care homes
St Joseph Home Fgura has been at the centre of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in elderly care homes

Silvio Parnis says lessons have been learnt from major outbreaks of COVID-19 at two elderly care homes and insists government did act in the face of rising infections.

The Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the elderly said the regulator for social care institutions was carrying out an investigation on the St Joseph Home in Fgura and Casa Antonia in Balzan to determine whether there were any shortcomings.

Both homes were the worst hit from a surge of COVID-19 cases among elderly residents in care homes over the past five weeks. The spread of coronavirus in care homes led to an increase in deaths among elderly people.

Parnis has been receiving flak for what many believe is government’s ineffectiveness to tackle the issue.

On TVM’s Xtra, Parnis yesterday insisted the government had done all it could to prepare elderly homes to meet the threat of COVID-19.

“I would have been worried if we did nothing, if we left things going on as they were but we did what we could and will keep on doing what we can. Nothing will dishearten us or stop is from going on with our work,” he said. 

The parliamentary secretary stressed that the set of protocols for fighting this pandemic were fluid, with measures being updated regularly in line with the evolving situation. 

“COVID-19 is not something you can just have one protocol on, but you have to keep working on it. Today we have a protocol and the protocol changes regularly and is regularly updated. Tomorrow we can change the protocol again,” he added.

Parnis said government learnt its lessons from the scenarios at St Joseph Home and Casa Antonia and has subsequently updated certain measures.

“Initially we had worked with the 10% system – where 10% of beds were left empty and allocated for any residents who might test positive, but now that we are seeing how this virus spreads, we have taken further measures to ensure that it does not continue spreading,” he said. 

Parnis explained that instead of moving positive residents to a separate floor, the government will now be placing them in another home entirely, so as to limit the virus’s spread.

Probed by show host Saviour Balzan with regard to the rationale behind the preventive measures that are currently in place at elderly homes – which see relatives’ visiting hours being restricted while carers are allowed to go in and out while continuing to live life normally – Parnis insisted that, while the government could have forced all staff members to remain within the homes, this would have had negative repercussions. 

“The easiest thing for us to do would have been to impose a lockdown and force everyone to stay in the home. However, when we had the Fgura home, we had some people who just flat out resigned because they could not take it anymore. If we had imposed a lockdown even more would have left,” he said.

Asked about the growing concern from a public that views the government as having lost control over the virus within elderly homes, Parnis argued that the only cause for concern would be if the government chose to remain passive in the face of rising infection rates, which he insisted is not the case. 

“I would worry if we did nothing, but we did take action, and will continue to do so. We strengthened measures to make sure that what happened in the Fgura home does not happen again,” he said. 

The parliamentary secretary also noted that, for the most part, the relatives of those who have fallen victim to COVID-19 do not put undue blame at the government’s feet. 

“I spoke to some of the relatives of those who died with COVID. They understood that we tried to do everything, not just us but the doctors, so we shouldn’t give the impression that they’re all blaming us,” he said.