Malta registered a record number of new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, with the health minister saying the vast number appear to have been sparked by the Christmas and New Year festivities.
A total of 245 new cases were announced, the second time in three days that the number of new cases reached a national high.
Two further patients died, bumping the virus death toll up to 232. The victims – an 85-year-old man who tested positive on January 7, and a 77-year-old woman who tested positive on January 3 – both died at Mater Dei Hospital on Friday, the health ministry said earlier in the day.
When contacted, Health Minister Chris Fearne said: “At the moment we are being cautious how to interpret results since the number of genome sequencing tests is small. But on present evidence, the Christmas and New Year effect seems to be significant. We are continuing to look for evidence of community spread of the UK variant, but at the moment this does not appear to be widespread. We need to keep vigilant and responsible since a rise in numbers now will translate in increased ITU occupancy in two weeks’ time.”
The UK variant reported last month, where it has been rapidly circulating, is said to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible.
Sources told Times of Malta that the government was contemplating introducing more restrictive measures, namely closing off restaurants, apart from the take-away service, as well as suspending the vouchers scheme should the numbers keep rising.
“We have to adopt a wait-and-see approach, especially since the numbers are still manageable, and relatively low compared to what is happening overseas,” the health sources said.
Concerns about the rising infection rate prompted teachers to go on strike for two days, with unions demanding a return to remote schooling.
That stalemate was resolved on Friday night and schools are now set to reopen as normal tomorrow. Teachers have also been bumped up to receive the vaccine right after the frontliners and the elderly.
Meanwhile, while it has been confirmed that carnival activities have been called off because of the pandemic, it emerged that the Malta Tourism Authority only issued 16 fines for breaches of COVID-19 mitigation measures at restaurants throughout December.
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