COVID - 3 Years On
Although much of the following information will be similar to most other countries, I thought you might be interested in the history of COVID in Malta. The following has been taken from the Times of Malta newspaper.
These are the latest coronavirus statistics from the Health Department of Malta. One person has died while COVID positive, with 133 new cases registered and 273 active ones.
The memory of figures like this is only too fresh in our minds but, thankfully, they no longer instil the kind of dread and panic they did following the outbreak of the pandemic three years ago.
The announcement of the first cases of coronavirus infection early in March 2020 catapulted the nation into over two years of restrictions, quarantines, mask-wearing, social distancing and two partial lockdowns aimed at controlling the spread.
In all, there have been a total of 117,610 positive cases in Malta and 828 people have died while COVID positive.
While Malta has lifted the public health emergency declared for COVID, the WHO still classifies it technically as a pandemic and a public health emergency of international concern. The virus that once evoked so much fear is still around but it has been reduced to the status of just “another virus” following a successful nationwide COVID vaccine rollout that saw the Maltese health authorities administer more than 1.4 million doses, including boosters.
Now, three years on, life has mostly returned to normal, but some practices linger. People still wear masks to protect the vulnerable, people still get tested for the virus and have to quarantine if they test positive. There have been some silver linings though. “The population has been sensitised to the importance of respiratory hygiene, staying away from others when sick and protecting the vulnerable and the elderly in our families and communities,” says Public Health Superintendent, Charmaine Gauci.
Gauci became a household name during the pandemic as, always calm and composed, she briefed the nation regularly about the latest developments and walked the population through the new measures and restrictions.
“Surveillance for COVID is now part of the regular surveillance that the Superintendence of Public Health carries out for all other infectious diseases, monitoring outbreaks and supporting patients and families,” she said.
This time three years ago, many were rushing to supermarkets and stocking up on food and other household basics like toilet paper.
The fear of the looming coronavirus pandemic became real after the first positive cases were announced amid news of deaths in Italy.
On March 7, 2020 the health ministry confirmed Malta’s first case as a 12-year-old Italian girl who had travelled to Italy and returned home to Malta after a few days.
The following days saw other positive tests. The government started imposing travel bans and, within a few days, obligatory quarantine was extended to anyone coming from abroad.
On March 12 – by when there were 12 confirmed cases – the first major measures were announced. Schools and childcare centres were to close (initially for a week that ended up lasting till the end of the scholastic year) and the authorities appealed to the elderly and vulnerable to stay at home.
On March 16, the Prime Minister announced the closure of bars, restaurants, clubs, cinemas and gyms, and in the weeks to follow, the country’s borders were shut and only government-organised repatriation flights were allowed. By March 22, non-essential shops were closed and public gatherings were banned leading to the postponement of many weddings and large events.
It was a partial lockdown – the first of two.
On April 8, 2020, the first COVID related death was registered. The victim was a 92-year-old from Gozo.
According to the restrictive measures in place back then, those who tested positive together with their household members and primary contacts had to quarantine for 14 days. This meant that, for a period, people were not allowed near dying relatives and mothers whose partners had tested positive had to give birth alone.
Anxiety levels soared as people’s mental health started being impacted. Care homes shut their doors and the elderly residents were not allowed to leave their rooms or receive visitors for months on end. The months to follow saw measures being tweaked in line with the number of active cases.
The first vaccinations were administered on December 27, 2020. Healthcare workers were first, followed by the elderly and vulnerable, to be gradually followed by the rest of the population.
As the numbers spiked again, a second partial lockdown was announced in March 2021 – one year after the first one.
The situation on the island began to improve in April 2021 and restrictions slowly eased – Malta’s vaccination strategy was moving ahead at full steam.
Before the end of that August, 90 per cent of the population over 12 years of age had been fully vaccinated. And with the vaccinations came the requirement for vaccine certificates to be shown for travelling and entering certain public places.
The arrival of the Omicron variant at the end of 2021 signalled a shift in the pandemic. This highly infectious variant spread faster than previous ones but, with the majority vaccinated by then, fewer people experienced complications as a result of infection, even if the infection rate in Malta reached record highs in January 2022.
Again, restrictions were put in place until the situation slowly calmed down and, finally, in April 2022 the majority of measures were lifted.
A few still apply. People showing symptoms (such as cough, fever and shortness of breath) are encouraged to take a swab. Masks are still mandatory in hospitals, health clinics and elderly homes.
And people who test positive are to stay in quarantine for 10 days, or seven days if they test negative on the seventh day.
COVID is fading into the background of our lives but the repercussions might linger.
Claudia Calleja - Journalist. (Copyright © 2023 Times of Malta. All rights reserved).