[WATCH] Almost four out of every 100 COVID tests are positive, Chris Fearne says

Xtra on TVM News Plus | Chris Fearne says Malta’s COVID positivity rate stands at 3.5% as he urges people to take the booster dose and inoculate their children

Health Minister Chris Fearne
Health Minister Chris Fearne

Almost four out of every 100 COVID tests in Malta are resulting positive, Chris Fearne said, as the surge in cases continues.

The COVID positivity rate currently stands at 3.5%, the Health Minister said when speaking on TVM News Plus’s Xtra on Monday night.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Malta’s positivity rate last week stood at 2.5%.

On Monday, the Health Ministry bulletin said 252 new cases were recorded in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of active cases in the community to 2,190. However, hospitalisations increased to 42 with five patients requiring intensive therapy.

Malta’s positivity rate and number of hospitalisations so far compare favourably to that in other European countries despite a surge in infections.

Fearne said the current spike in cases across different countries was the result of waning immunity, which also coincided with the arrival of the more transmissible variant, Omicron.

Urges people to take booster

The Health Minister said the booster dose was necessary to help the country get through the current wave of infections and urged people to get their third dose.

“In the summer and autumn, we did well because of the high vaccination rate that protected us all. Now we need the booster to protect us for the winter months,” Fearne said.

“It appears that the booster dose can boost immunity for up to a year, which means we won’t have to get inoculated every two months but probably like the influenza, once a year,” Fearne said, allaying fears expressed by some of multiple vaccinations throughout the year.

“We have the weapon to beat this virus… but it is important that we take the booster shot because it will help protect against the risk of contracting the infection and in those cases, were a person still gets sick, the severity and complications are much less,” Fearne insisted.

He ruled out having a much higher count of infections in the community than those officially notified. “With the number of people taking tests because of travel requirements, if we had a higher number of undetected infections in the community it would show up in the positivity rate.”

Seek advice from doctors

Fearne urged parents to give their children the COVID vaccine and take advice from their doctor or paediatrician.

“The vaccine not only helps schools to remain open but protects the health of children and their families,” the minister said. “If your children are sick, you take them to the doctor… likewise on the vaccine, I urge parents to seek advice from their doctors.”

READ ALSO: Paediatric association supports COVID-19 vaccination for children

Opposition health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri also emphasised the importance of people taking their booster dose.

“Scientific data shows that the third dose offers 85% protection against the Omicron variant, which is why the booster roll out must continue in earnest,” Spiteri said.

Wave of mental health problems

Psychiatrist Anton Grech said the pandemic caused mental health problems to get worse and the impact will be felt in due course.

“We speak of COVID waves to describe how the pandemic has progressed but we fear waves of mental problems, some of which are already being felt,” he said.

The lack of social interaction in the pandemic also contributed to worsening symptoms among early dementia sufferers because they could not keep their brain active, Grech said.

“We did not see a particular increase in the number of people who visited Mount Carmel but we did experience more severe cases as a result of the isolation and anxiety caused by the pandemic,” he explained.

Grech urged people to seek help if they experience symptoms that are uncharacteristic such as sleeplessness, anxiety and the inability to concentrate.

“Help does not mean automatically treating the problem with pills because that is what many people fear… help may be speaking to a psychotherapist,  a councillor and professionals who can help the individual understand what is happening… pills are the last resort,” he said.