Malta’s rate of new COVID-19 cases has continued to decline this week, with the seven-day moving average of new virus cases is currently at 39, down from 50 last week.
Public health chief Charmaine Gauci provided the figure during her weekly COVID-19 briefing on Friday afternoon.
The drop represents a 24 per cent week-on-week decline in average new virus cases and 30 per cent drop from the situation two weeks ago.
The number of virus patients receiving care in medical facilities rose marginally from 69 to 74, data provided by Gauci showed, although the number of patient requiring intensive care has remained by and large stable.
Vaccination coverage rates, meanwhile, continue to rise. Almost two-thirds of people in their 50s – 58 per cent – have received at least one vaccine dose so far, with those rates rising to 85 per cent for those in their 60s and 90 per cent for over 70s.
The seven-day moving average of new cases stands at 38 – down from 50 one week ago and 55 two weeks ago.
Malta's positivity rate - the percentage of swab tests that are positive - stands at 2.1 per cent. That applies for both PCR and rapid tests, Gauci said.
The infection curve has now hit a plateau, Gauci said, reiterating what she said one week ago, as the number of new virus cases stabilises.
More than two out of three new cases – 67 per cent – are of a UK variant. Four cases are of a South African variant, with another three being of a Brazilian variant.
No cases of an Indian virus variant have been detected so far, with Gauci saying authorities are fully equipped to test for the presence of this or other variants, using equipment at Mater Dei Hospital.
The average age of patients stands at 42, with the majority of new cases among those in the 30-34-year-old group.
So far, the average COVID-19 patient deaths stands at 70.
Where are infections being traced to?
Household and workplace infections continue to be the most common vector of infection, Gauci said, with a cluster of 50 cases detected at a single workplace this week.
A spike in case numbers reported earlier this week was attributable to this cluster, she said.
Social gatherings were still contributing to a number of new infections, but they are not the majority.
There have been 28 virus cases linked to schools over the past two weeks, since they reopened, but no evidence of transmission within school settings.
Authorities conducted 1,156 swab tests at Malta's ports and airport this past week. Of those, one resulted positive.
The number of virus cases in homes for the elderly was negligible, with two new cases reported there. One patient was asymptomatic while the other had only mild symptoms.
“This further confirms that vaccination works,” Gauci said.
How many COVID-19 patients are in hospitals?
Gauci provided her weekly breakdown of hospitalisation data.
A total of 74 virus patients are in hospital as of Friday, she said. That represents a slight increase from seven days ago, when the number of hospitalised patients stood at 69.
Hospitalised patients are being cared for as follows:
Mater Dei ITU: 8
Mater Dei IDU: 8
Other Mater Dei wards: 24
Good Samaritan: 0
Boffa Hospital: 12
Gozo General Hospital: 0
St Thomas Hospital: 12
Karin Grech: 7
Mount Carmel Hospital: 3
A defence of masks and quarantine
Gauci emphasised the importance of masks in reducing infection numbers, noting how research had come a long way since the start of the pandemic and the evidence clearly showed that they worked very well in reducing infection rates.
Authorities have come under fire in recent weeks for suggesting that mask-wearing rules will be kept in place throughout summer and in public outdoor areas like beaches.
Gauci stuck to that line on Friday, saying "even the ECDC is noting that when you have community transmission and nobody has herd immunity, you cannot lift measures."
She pushed back at suggestions that requiring masks to be worn outdoors was overkill, saying the ECDC was advising countries to keep any mask-wearing rules they had in place.
That did not mean things would not change, however.
"We will adapt once we vaccinate more people and see what others are doing," she said.
The public health chief also said that quarantine rules will remain unchanged even for those who have received two vaccine doses.
"At the point we are at, those exposed to positive people must still go into quarantine, even if fully vaccinated," she said.
Vaccinated people can, however, donate blood. Gauci advised people keen to donate blood to "wait a few days" following vaccination before doing so.
The number of new virus infections detected in Malta continued to decline this week, hitting month-long lows. That trend continued on Friday, when 33 new cases were reported.
Standing in stark contrast to those low case numbers have been high rates of vaccination, with almost 7,000 doses administered in one day on Wednesday and more than 95,000 people fully vaccinated so far.
Gauci noted that more than 301,000 vaccine doses have been administered so far, with almost 100,000 people fully vaccinated.
Anyone aged 60 or older who has not yet received a vaccination appointment should dial 145 to be given an appointment. Older patients will be treated with priority, Gauci said.
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