A fifth of newly-identified COVID-19 patients have not had any symptoms, public health chief Charmaine Gauci has confirmed.

Speaking during Times of Malta's fortnightly Facebook show Ask Charmaine, the Superintendent of Public Health said that of the cases identified in August, 20 per cent had no symptoms. The remaining cases had the "usual" symptoms, notably cough, fever or diarrhoea.

As of Wednesday, health authorities had identified 751 new COVID-19 cases this month.   

"It's worrying when you have asymptomatic cases because people themselves would not know that they are COVID-19 cases," Gauci said. 

Asymptomatic people, despite exhibiting no symptoms, are infectious when at the peak of their viral shedding period. However, Gauci noted that research indicates that while contagious, those with no coronavirus symptoms may not spread the virus as much as those with symptoms. 

"But once we know they are there and the virus is spreading, it is important to keep maintaining our strategy of identification of the cases as early as possible."

Malta's findings concerning asymptomatic spread mirror the experiences of several other countries, which have noted how the virus is spreading predominantly through younger, asymptomatic people

Data provided to Times of Malta in early August showed that the majority of local cases between mid-July and August 3 were of people aged 15 to 34. 

High rate of testing

On the R Factor - the rate of spread of the virus - Gauci said this is "higher than one but lower than two", though she declined to give the exact figure. 

Earlier in August, the figure had been above two

Meanwhile, on the number of new cases detected daily, Gauci said that one needed to keep in mind that widespread testing was being carried out in Malta.

While other countries did not test relatives unless they had symptoms, for instance, the Maltese health authorities always carry out swab tests on family members of a positive patient, Gauci said.

And on restrictions for bars, Gauci said people should understand the aim of the measures is to limit the number of people roaming around in one place for an extended period of time.

She encouraged the public to be mindful of their behaviour, saying the government could roll out various measures but the people must also do their part and try to make an effort to protect themselves. 

An earlier version of this article stated that 80 per cent of patients were asymptomatic. The Superintendent of Public Health has clarified that she misspoke during a Times of Malta Q&A on Facebook. 

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