Malta should consider testing its entire population for COVID-19 as a “last resort” before healthcare systems are overwhelmed, the Nationalist Party’s health spokesman has proposed.

Shadow health minister Stephen Spiteri said that rapid testing the entire country would allow healthcare workers to identify and isolate asymptomatic carriers who are spreading the virus without knowing it.

“Test Trace Isolate... other countries are doing it already,” Spiteri wrote on Facebook.

The PN MP was most likely alluding to Slovakia, which last week began a massive programme to test its entire 5.6 million population using rapid antigen tests.

Slovak authorities tested roughly half the country’s population in two days and found that around 1 per cent were infected with COVID-19. Testing continued this weekend, despite concerns by some that the plan's implementation is flawed

'Healthcare system is going to collapse'

Spiteri made it clear that he wanted tougher containment measures in place, saying Malta would now struggle to manage rising case numbers.

“Our healthcare system is going to collapse soon. We don't have the space and resources to cope with the escalating 2nd wave,” shadow health minister Stephen Spiteri wrote.

“We are now late in the day. Stricter measures, adequate enforcement should have been in place earlier, anticipating what is going to happen!”

Malta currently has just under 2,000 active COVID-19 cases, with case numbers having effectively doubled in less than one month. In an interview with The Sunday Times of Malta, Health Minister Chris Fearne said case numbers are likely to rise “significantly” as the country approaches winter.

Fearne said that while he had sympathy for medical associations which are calling for tougher restrictions, such decisions had to be taken with the bigger picture in mind too.

“There are other things apart from COVID, even medically,” Fearne said.  

Spiteri, on the other hand,  believes health authorities should stagger stricter measures over the coming months until a vaccine is available. This, he said, would allow the country’s healthcare system to cope and frontlines to “recharge”.

“We are just in time to try and avoid a forced lockdown,” he wrote. “Action [is] needed ASAP”.

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