Three new coronavirus cases in Malta were confirmed overnight, bringing the total to 110. 

But while the numbers appear low, Superintendent for Public Health Charmaine Gauci said it did not mean the amount of cases in the country is declining.

"These are early days yet. It is not the first time we have had a slump in cases, only for them to pick up again," she said.

She pointed to the experience of Hong Kong, which saw cases double after authorities there relaxed social distancing measures.

”We are still at the beginning. The curve is still rising,” she said and appealed for employers to let staff work from home where possible and for all people to limit social contact.

Some 292 tests were carried out and all three of those who confirmed positive were imported cases, meaning they contracted COVID-19 while abroad.

New cases

They are a 20-year-old woman who arrived from the UK and started experiencing symptoms on March 22. She had stayed in quarantine so only the people who live with her were exposed to the virus. 

The second case is another 20-year-old woman, a university student who travelled to London with a group on March 4-9. She had attended a lecture when she returned to Malta on March 10, the day before she started to experience symptoms. Fellow students in close contact with her are being traced by the authorities. 

The third case is a 49-year-old American man who went to Austria and obeyed quarantine advice on his return to Malta. He started to suffer symptoms on March 18 and only one person, who lives with him, was in contact with him.

A 61-year-old man who was among a previous tranche of cases, and who has complications, is still in intensive care and his condition is not stable, Gauci said. He is being given "combination therapy".

Makeshift hospital

Gauci explained why authorities were planning to build a makeshift hospital when asked about whether existing facilities such as St Luke's Hospital should be used instead.

"We want to be prepared for all eventualities," she said. "We want to have a specific hospital to care for COVID patients. We are looking at all possibilities. We have the Infectious Diseases Unit, we are using a private hospital, and Mater Dei is being converted. We are investing as much as possible to have as many beds as possible available."

She said that regarding making use of St Luke's Hospital, the investment needed would be more than for newer hospitals.

"COVID is an added burden to our health system, so we cannot divert beds away from that (the normal healthcare requirements)," she said. "We are trying to add additional beds."

Patient testing

On testing patients, Gauci said that Malta has the third highest rate in Europe and authorities are opening up more swabbing centres in the hope of widening the criteria for testing.

She said that the vast majority - 80 per cent of coronavirus patients - will not need to be hospitalised. However, she did not give an estimate about how many are expected to get infected.

Remarking on news that a private hospital is now offering testing, she said that the protocols were similar to those at Mater Dei and authorities would be notified when someone tests positive. 

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