Malta’s worsening COVID-19 situation was among the most worrying in Europe at the end of the year, according to the EU’s infections agency.

Malta was classified as being of “very high concern” with a score of nine out of 10, according to the weekly review by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) covering the last week of 2021.

Only France and Estonia scored higher than Malta, with both countries hitting 9.3 out of 10. The EU average stood at 8.8, as the Omicron variant wreaked havoc across Europe.

The score is worked out based on values for five different indicators: case notification rates, testing rates and test positivity, rates of hospitalisation and intensive care admission, occupancy and mortality.

All of Malta’s scores registered a significant increase towards the end of December, when the data was compiled.

During the week reviewed, Malta’s health authorities discovered an average of about 1,000 new cases daily, resulting in tens of thousands of people having to ring in the new year in quarantine.

The spike was blamed on the spread of the Omicron variant, which was first detected here on December 23 and which is now the dominant variant.

Almost 70 per cent of all new cases are now attributed to the highly infectious variant.

According to the ECDC, during the last week of the year, Malta’s infection rate skyrocketed to a record 2,443 cases per 100,000 people in a matter of days. Earlier in December, the rate stood at around 250 cases per 100,000 people.

Despite this, Malta’s death rate remained among the lowest in Europe at just over 15 deaths per 100,000 people.

But while the death rate remained low, something the health authorities repeatedly said is crucial at this stage of the pandemic, the case rate for the elderly spiked over the holidays.

The elderly infection rate is also deemed highly significant by the health authorities, who consider the cohort among the most at risk for complications from the virus.

The data revealed that, at the end of December, Malta’s infection rate for those over 65 was among the top five in Europe.

The majority of those in this group had already been administered the booster dose by the time of the ECDC’s review.

Times of Malta has contacted the health authorities for an explanation on the spike despite those within the age bracket being among the first to receive the booster jab. However, no reply has been forthcoming.

On the other indicators, the ECDC data showed Malta had a hospitalisation rate of 13.6 (which is the EU average) and a low 0.8 for ITU admissions while the positivity rate (the number of positive cases of all the tests carried out) stood at 14.8.

The country’s weekly testing rate stood at 9,957 tests per 100,000 people.

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