Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci has warned vulnerable people to remain vigilant against COVID-19 because of an increase in the number of cases among the elderly.

Gauci was speaking during her weekly update on the coronavirus situation in Malta, as authorities deal with a recent surge in the number of active cases.  

While most patients are experiencing mild symptoms, she said that COVID-19 cases were beginning to spill from young people to older, and more vulnerable, patients.

She said: "The numbers are still low but everything shows that the elderly and the vulnerable must protect themselves because even the elderly are now getting it. That is something that worries us since this could lead to complications." 

Malta recorded 31 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday with 54 recoveries, most of whom were migrants rescued at sea last month and who tested positive upon their arrival. 

There are 505 coronavirus patients, after 762 recoveries and nine deaths. 

A raft of countries have placed restrictions on travel from the island after a resurgence of the virus in the last few weeks. Twelve European countries have removed Malta from their 'safe lists', based on the number of people infected with COVID-19. 

As of Friday morning, the country ranks fourth in Europe in terms of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the last 14 days. 

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While the vast majority are being treated at home, three people are in intensive care with the infection because they also have pneumonia, a secondary condition of the virus. Gauci said they were "admitted there so we can support them closely".

The patients in the intensive care unit are:

  • a 71-year-old woman, who is on an oxygen supply and has no other underlying conditions;
  • a 63-year-old man, who is being treated on a ventilator and also has diabetes and hypertension;
  • a 53-year-old woman, who has no underlying medical conditions and is being treated with oxygen.

Five people are being treated in the infectious diseases unit, including an elderly man, who has been there for some time and whom Gauci described as "not so well".

Of the remaining hospital cases, 16 are in Boffa Hospital and 13 are in St Thomas Hospital, with some of those patients being kept there because they cannot isolate properly at home. 

Eight are being treated at Mount Carmel hospital, including four staff. 

Clusters of cases

Gauci said the health authorities have carried out 13,239 tests in one week, which she described as a "substantial number". Malta has one of the highest testing rates for the virus in Europe. 

"The more you test, the more you will find."

However, she put the recent surge in cases down to two reasons: clusters of patients at nightclubs feasts and parties, and groups of rescued migrants.

Identifying seven clusters of cases, she said the largest is linked to the Paceville entertainment district. Some 33 case in total are linked to the Sta Venera feast, 12 to Mount Carmel Hospital, 29 to clusters of families, and 14 to a group of foreign students. 

Record levels of testing

She said that testing for the virus is at a peak and that Malta is carrying out record levels of swabbing, which is why two new centres have been opened, allowing easier access particularly to those living in the north of the island. 

While there were busy days, she said that waiting lists for tests were dropping and that many people can now get tested within 24 hours with urgent cases handled immediately.  

1,200 people in quarantine

Gauci revealed 1,200 people on the island are currently in quarantine, including more than 140 health workers. 

Of these 77 are from Mount Carmel Hospital, seven from Karin Grech Hospital, one from primary healthcare, 56 from Mater Dei and two from Gozo hospital.  

She said 49,618 inspections had been carried out to make sure that various establishments are following social distancing rules and guidelines.

Of 742 inspections, 105 fines had been handed out for not wearing a mask. Gauci said the authorities' aim continued to be to educate people so that they understand the importance of wearing them.

Low spread among children

Gauci also addressed the issue of schools, as parents wonder whether authorities will go ahead with a planned reopening at the end of the summer break.

She said that there had been a "good experience" in summer schools, and that the spread was low with only a few children affected. 

"The European Centre for Disease Control is also looking at home much spread occurs among children, and this seems to be low, and similar to what happened at SkolaSajf," she said. 

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