Malta should be braced for a further increase in COVID-19 cases as modelling predicts numbers will continue to rise across Europe, Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci has said.
She issued the warning during her weekly update on the pandemic and encouraged people to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing to decrease the spread.
There are 2,124 active cases of coronavirus in Malta, after 150 new patients were reported on Friday. Gauci reported a further two deaths, taking the number of people who have died with coronavirus to 18 this week and 92 since the outbreak began in March.
"When we have a high infection rate, you will see more vulnerable people succumbing," she said.
The new deaths are a 95-year-old man, who went into hospital on November 8, tested positive the following day and died on Thursday and a 79-year-old man, who died on Friday, more than two weeks after he was admitted to hospital.
Watch the news conference live below:
How many patients are in hospital?
Gauci revealed that 208 people are now being treated in hospital for coronavirus including 13 in the intensive treatment unit and 10 in the infectious disease unit at Mater Dei.
Of the other patients 36 are in other wards in Mater Dei, 42 are in Boffa, 24 are in St Thomas hospital, 11 are in Gozo General hospital and 69 are being treated in the Good Samaritan unit in St Paul's Bay.
How is COVID-19 being spread?
Gauci appealed for people to work from home, highlighting that the second largest cluster of COVID-19 patients is from the workplace.
This week 99 patients were from household clusters, 45 from workplaces, 17 from social gatherings and eight were imported cases.
"Give importance to standards in workplaces because a number of cases are still being transmitted," she said, appealing for people to wear masks at work. "We have found it is effective in workplace cases to prevent the disease from spreading."
There were 158 tests carried out at the airport this week, resulting in eight positive cases. Four were from France, three were from Poland and one flew in from Ireland, all countries on the 'amber list', that was also extended this week.
The vast majority of the active cases reside in Malta, while there 57 patients in neighbouring island Gozo.
Gauci said that mitigation measures introduced in school - such as 'bubbles' of pupils, mandatory mask wearing, and social distancing - were working.
"We are not seeing transmission between the children," she said. "Like every other workplace, we’re seeing some school staff test positive." While some students had also tested positive, she said they did not appear to contract the virus from the classroom.
How old are the COVID-19 patients?
The average age of a COVID-19 patient this week is 45.4 with Gauci explaining that authorities have seen an increase of cases in the elderly, the most vulnerable group, this week.
There have been cases reported in nursing homes including Dar Pinto in Ħal Qormi, Golden Care in Naxxar, Zammit Clapp in St julians and the St Vincent De Paul facility in Marsa.
However, the most common age groups are 25 to 34 and 35 to 44, she said.
What are authorities doing to prevent the spread?
Malta ranks 21st in Europe in terms of numbers of cases with 360 per 100,000 population within the last fornight.
"The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Controls' modeling measuring the impact of the pandemic predicts numbers going up," she said.
While no new measures have been put in place this week. Gauci repeated several times during the news conference the importance of wearing masks, which have been mandatory for weeks.
She encouraged people to download the contact-tracing app COVID Alert Malta, which she said had been downloaded by 17. 2 per cent of the population and that 309 positive cases had used their code in the app.