The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

TMID Editorial: Coronavirus – The mare and the ant

Thursday, 2 April 2020, 07:52 Last update: about 3 months ago

It’s become almost a ritual.

For the last three weeks – and counting – Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci has been giving a daily briefing on Coronavirus cases. Many times this took place just before lunch; a few times it was held later.

After Gauci gives a detailed account on the new cases, and some information about the older ones, journalists are free to ask questions; other journalists, together with hundreds of other concerned people, follow the presser from home, via a live feed that is transmitted on the Health Directorate’s Facebook page.


Everybody waits, almost with trepidation, until she gives the number of new Coronavirus cases that were registered in the previous 24 hours. If it’s a number below five, one can almost hear a collective sigh of relief; if it’s more than that, and so far the highest recorded was 19 new cases – this happened twice, the last time being yesterday – one can then hear a collective breath of exasperation.

Gauci makes it clear every time. There is no cause for celebration if the number is small, and there is no cause for alarm if the number is big. The worst is not over, she said a few days ago, as the curve is still going upwards.

What seems to be a matter of concern – not only in Malta, but in every country where this virus has hit – is the length of time that patients take to recover. So far, in Malta, only two of the 188 patients have recovered from the virus. A patient is considered to have recovered, Gauci has explained several times, when he or she tests negative on two occasions within 24 hours of each other.

In Malta, the first case was registered on 7 March, and this means that there are people who have been carrying the virus for more than three weeks. This puts paid the idea many had that this virus is similar to influenza. It is not. One recovers from influenza in a much shorter time-frame than Coronavirus.

There’s a Maltese saying about illnesses which seems to be very appropriate for Coronavirus, although it was coined centuries ago. Literally translated, it goes: “Sickness rides in on a mare, but leaves on an ant”; in other words, it’s easy to get sick (in this case, contract Coronavirus), but it’s hard to be cured.

And so this is yet another reason for people to be careful in their behaviour. The health authorities know what they are saying when they tell all of us to stay away from others as much as possible, and limit our social presence to the bare necessities, such as shopping for food. If people can work from home, and today’s technology has made this easier, they should do so, particularly if they live in the same household as more vulnerable people.

But if people defy these instructions and gather in large numbers in public places, the chances are that the situation can become uncontrollable. Apart from causing greater distress on Malta’s medical system, this social irresponsibility could be the reason that it will take longer for Malta to emerge victorious over the Coronavirus pandemic.

We should all remember that, while Gauci is giving the public bare details relating only to the age of the people involved, for privacy reasons, behind every number there is a person, and in many cases a family or work colleagues who are in quarantine after being in contact with the patient who tested positive, who are anxiously waiting to get the all clear.


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