Mater Dei hospital has been forced to open up a third COVID-19 intensive care unit, bringing the total number of ITUs to five as healthcare workers grapple with the influx of infected patients needing critical care. 

It comes after the Association of Anaethetists warned, in a statement backed by 12 medical professional groups, that Malta's intensive care resources could be "completely exhausted within days, if not hours".

Times of Malta can confirm the unit started to be used on Tuesday afternoon, with sources saying this had been expected since the number of critical patients continued to spike in recent days. This was one of the direct impacts of the rise in cases in the community. 

Mater Dei runs three COVID-19 intensive treatment units, a fourth for other cases, while the fifth is in Gozo general hospital. 

On Wednesday, Malta registered the highest-ever rate of new cases, 510, smashing previous records recorded in recent days. Times of Malta has reached out to the government for an update on the number of people currently in critical care but the figures have yet to be supplied. 

As of Friday, when the health authorities gave their weekly updates, there were 23 patients in intensive care. 

Meanwhile, Times of Malta reported on Sunday that a large number of the younger COVID-19 patients currently in intensive care are obese and often develop more severe complications because of excessive weight.

Fifth ITU 'practically full' 

The Association of Anaesthetists of Malta said that the fifth ITU which had just been opened was already “practically full”.

“This was the last available improvised intensive care unit on the island,” it said, adding that the situation had so far been contained because of the hard work and effort put in by anaesthetists and nurses working in intensive care.

It said that despite "burnout throughout all grades" anaesthetists persevered and kept their service provision and commitments across the hospital and beyond, constantly saving lives.

They also continued to provide anaesthesia for emergency and elective surgery including cancer but the time had now come that even this had now become "unsustainable".

In a stark warning, it said that the next step is that "resources for intensive care become completely exhausted in a matter of days, if not hours".

The age of patients being admitted to intensive care is getting younger and younger, they said

The association urged the authorities to avoid a situation where intensive care resources will not be available to those who need them.

“The number of fatalities in this scenario would be exponential.”

This, it said, was what had happened in neighbouring countries a year ago when the world was not prepared for the virus.

“Unfortunately, we seem to be losing the battle now, one year on, when we should have been wiser and more prepared,” the association said.

In a sign of the state of concern of the medical community, the statement was endorsed by:

  • the Association of Emergency Physicians of Malta;
  • the Association of Orthopaedic and Trauma surgeons;
  • the Association of Surgeons of Malta;
  • the Malta Association of Otorhinolaryngologists and Head and Neck Surgeons;
  • the Malta Association of Psychiatry;
  • the Malta Association of Public Health Medicine;
  • the Malta Association of Opthalmologists;
  • the Maltese Association of Radiologists and Nuclear Medicine Physicians;
  • the Malta College of Family Doctors;
  • the Malta College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists;
  • the Malta College of Pathologists
  • the Maltese Paediatric Association

Afterwards the medical union, the Malta Association of Public Health Medicine said the situation was “a loud and clear signal” that “we need to act with greater resolve”.

The numbers announced on Wednesday, it said, placed Malta among the fifth highest in the world for rates of new infections. The time for more measures, it said, had arrived.

“We call on the health authorities and government to take swift and evidence-based actions immediately.”

The association said it is still too soon to rely on the vaccines for protection. Everyone should keep to their households and avoid crowds, limiting all non-essential activities to zero, it said. 

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