The Malta Independent 3 June 2020, Wednesday

Malta gets first Coronavirus case; patient is 12-year-old Italian girl

Rebekah Cilia Saturday, 7 March 2020, 09:58 Last update: about 4 months ago

Malta has reported its first case of Coronavirus, Health Minister, Chris Fearne confirmed on Saturday morning, saying that “we were expecting our first case.”

The patient, who tested positive for the virus on Saturday is a 12-year-old Italian girl who resides in Malta. The girl had travelled to northern Italy, particularly the area of Trentino, at the end of February/beginning of March, together with her parents and sister, and returned to Malta, via Rome on Tuesday, Fearne said.

She is in “good condition,” the Minister confirmed.

When the family returned, they heeded the authorities’ advice, and self-quarantined on their return. Fearne confirmed that, “the children did not go to school and the parents did not go to work or leave the house.” He assured that their contact with other people was “minimal.”

The girl only started to experience symptoms - fever and sore throat - on Thursday, Fearne said. A swab test was conducted on Friday and the result came back positive on Saturday. She is being held in a secluded area in Mater Dei Hospital, along with the rest of her family.

Live: Press conference by Health Authorities on the first local case of Coronavirus

Posted by Malta Independent on Saturday, March 7, 2020

The fact that the family obeyed instructions to self-quarantine means that the situation is relatively contained, Fearne explained. No details were given as to which school the girl and her sister attend, or in which locality the family resides. When asked, Fearne declined to say which airline the family had used to return to Malta.

“We are in the process of identifying, hour-by-hour, where the family have been in our country, to verify what contact traces need to be done,” he said.

Measures are being taken by the authorities, including taking swabs at home giving results within hours, which seem to have worked as this was the first case report, and it was caught early, the Minister added.

Asked by this newsroom if the passengers and crew on the flight from Rome, which was boarded by this family, would be tested, as well as those in the airport when the family was passing through, Pathologist Chris Barbara explained that the risks to people who were close to the girl before she exhibited symptoms are minimal. He explained that people had to be in contact with the affected people for at least 15 minutes to become infected.

“If you pass by an infected person it does not mean that there will be contagious,” he said.

Fearne confirmed that screening at the airport was already in place when the family passed through, however, since the virus has an incubation period of 15 days, it was not detected.

“Screening catches those cases which are symptomatic at the time,” he said, and in this case, the girl showed symptoms a few days after she passed through the airport.

Barbara also said that the dose of virus which is necessary for the virus to be transmitted is higher when symptoms are present.

Gauci also said that there are protocols in place, which airlines follow, in other circumstances, such as when a passenger develops chickenpox.

A risk assessment is also carried out, and in this case, since the girl did not have symptoms whilst on the plane, the risk of others contracting the virus is low. Having said this, Gauci noted that despite the risk being low, an evaluation is being made so as the authorities are sure all people are informed.


Another individual in mandatory quarantine

Fearne also said that another individual, a Czech national, had tested negative for the virus but remained in mandatory quarantine. She had informed authorities that a person she had recently met, whilst travelling in Italy, had contracted the virus.


How many will be affected by the Coronavirus?

If the Coronavirus is contracted by elderly people or those with chronic illnesses, they have a higher risk of complications, Gauci explained.

80 percent of those who contract the virus will not have complications, and will not even need to be admitted to hospital, she continued. However, 15 percent can be affected, if they have chronic illnesses.

What is killing is not the virus but the chronic illnesses which some people who contract the disease have, resulting in complications,” Gauci said. She added that the mortality rate is about 2 percent.


Shipment of 32,000 face masks expected next week

Until Friday, Malta was one of only three countries in Europe which had not registered any cases of Coronavirus. The other two are Cyprus and Bulgaria. “For this reason, we were expecting to have our first case,” Fearne said.

The steps being taken by the Health Authorities and the government are “efficient”, Fearne said, adding that “there is no reason to be alarmed.”

Fearne also added that Malta is well stocked in terms of protective equipment, adding that a shipment of 32,000 face masks is expected to reach Malta next week to compliment the current stock.

“Also, on Monday, the EU will start the adjudication of the joint procurement process, in which Malta is included, to be able to purchase protective clothing as a bloc and then distribute it to member states as needed," he said.

He also said that, although a Coronavirus vaccine is not yet available and could be months away, he had suggested that an EU joint procurement process to purchase a vaccine, once it is made available, should be initiated.


New helpline set up - 111

Fearne said that anyone who experiences symptoms or has any questions should call on 111, a new helpline set up which is manned by doctors around the clock, ready to give advice and take action.

Sir Paul Boffa Hospital is also being prepared for the eventuality that the number of Coronavirus cases increases, more than can be catered for at Mater Dei Hospital. As a precautionary measure, Boffa Hospital patients are being moved elsewhere.

It was also confirmed that appointments at Boffa Hospital will remain in place for now, since the hospital will only be used for Coronavirus cases should the number increase.

Mater Dei Hospital CEO Celia Falzon said that the hospital will continue to operate as normal. “We are only being a bit more stringent in terms of visitors to try to limit the number of people accessing the hospital. But this is the norm, we just don't always apply them so stringently," she said.


Testing hub to open on Tuesday

Fearne said that a new testing hub will open on Tuesday, due to the increase in the number of tests being carried out. These types of testing hubs have already been operating in other European countries, to avoid people going to hospitals or health centres to get tested.

More details will be provided about this testing hub, on Tuesday, he said.

Gauci also said that “we want to do as many tests as possible,” and that the new testing hub will provide the capability to increase the number of tests.

Fearne confirmed that an 18-bed isolation ward had already been set up at Mater Dei Hospital, and an additional 12 beds set up in a location which has not been disclosed.

The Minister continued to explain that the medical staff is being trained to deal with the situation. He also said that as the situation is at present, there is no need to close any schools or take any more drastic measures. He also said that there is no need for people to rush to supermarkets.

Asked whether there were plans to stop flights from Italy or other affected areas, the minister said that the World Health Organisation and European health authorities had not made this recommendation so far.

Fearne also confirmed there are no new instructions for the public at this stage but urged people to take the standard precautionary measures.

Gauci, however, stressed the need to limit non-essential travel to Asia and Italy, particularly the regions of Piemonte, Veneto and Emilia Romagna. Fearne also urged individuals, as the family who returned from Rome has done, who returned from the noted countries to self-quarantine.

On Friday, the number of people affected with the virus rose beyond 100,000 globally. More than 3,400 of those who tested positive have died.

The Minister also said he had spoken, on Saturday morning, to the Medical Association of Malta, the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses and shadow health minister, Stephen Spiteri, to brief them on the matter. 


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