The spread of coronavirus in Malta has slowed to the point where those infected are now passing it on to an average of just over one person.

Superintendent for Public Health Charmaine Gauci told Times of Malta the reproduction factor, or R0 has been recorded at approximately 1.1 in Malta. 

The goal of all countries is to bring the R0 down to below 1, which has been achieved by Germany and is part of the reason why the country has begun to lift some containment measures.  

Gauci said on Monday that the calculation of the virus’ contagiousness emerges from modelling carried out by public health authorities as they try to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

'Choking out the virus'

However, she added that the figure fluctuates regularly at just above 1 and changes from time to time. The current figure is lower than the rate of 1.5 that was being recorded last week.  

Globally researchers believe that the novel coronavirus has an R0 of 2.2 – meaning that, on average, every infected person spreads the virus to 2.2 more people. 

With an R0 of 1 or less, a virus has nowhere to spread and is gradually choked out. So bringing this figure down is how Malta will eventually get over the virus, Gauci said.  

She said that calculating a virus’ R0 is extremely difficult because it is not fixed: the value changes as societies adapt and react. 

Social distancing and other such measures intended to starve the virus of new hosts help bring that number down; people living in crowded conditions or inadequate use of personal protective equipment by healthcare workers, for instance, will bump the number up. 

Public compliance key 

A major hurdle, Gauci said, was public compliance.  

“It is of vital importance that anyone who feels any of the indicated symptoms get in touch with the authorities by calling 111. You must get tested, this is how we can have an accurate picture of what is going on and ultimately take the best decisions,” she said. 

Should local models be correct, Malta's R0 of 1.1 suggests that restrictions introduced to slow the spread of the virus - from closing borders to shutting down non-essential shops - are having a positive impact. 

However, Gauci was quick to point out that given that the rate of transmission depends largely on human behaviour, any positive trend can change rapidly if the public were to start disregarding health orders by, for instance, meeting in large groups. 

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