The Malta Independent 5 March 2021, Friday

Coronavirus per capita: Malta ranks 34th, reproduction rate ‘worrying’ - Vince Marmara

Albert Galea Friday, 3 April 2020, 08:00 Last update: about 12 months ago

Malta’s Coronavirus reproduction rate is lower than what is being seen in the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain, but statistician Vincent Marmara warned that this is not something to rest one’s laurels on and that it is still worrying.

Contacted by The Malta Independent on the subject of drawing comparisons between Malta and other countries on the spread of Coronavirus, Marmara was asked for his interpretation of the use of the number of cases per one million population as a means of comparing the level of the virus’ spread between one country and another.


In this comparison, Malta – in spite of its comparably low number of cases – as of Thursday morning ranked in 34th place worldwide with a rate of 444 cases per million population.  This means that Malta ranks slightly higher than the United Kingdom (434 cases) and other European countries such as Slovenia (431 cases), the Czech Republic (337 cases), Cyprus (295 cases), Finland (274 cases), and 17 others.

The worldwide average rate stands at 124 cases per million population.

It should be noted that some of the highest ranked states and territories are some of the world’s smallest: the Vatican City has registered just 6 cases, but owing to its small population that translates to a rate of 7,461 cases per million.  Similarly, San Marino with 236 cases has a rate of 6,955 cases per million, and Andorra with 428 cases has a rate of 5,539 cases.

Other small countries and territories such as Iceland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Gibraltar, Liechtenstein, the Faroe Islands, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands all rank higher than Malta.

However other larger countries rank higher than Malta as well: Spain has a rate of 2,358 cases per million, Italy has a rate of 1,829 cases per million, France has a rate of 873 cases per million, and the United States of America – which has now registered well over 200,000 cases – has a rate of 658 cases per million.

Asked about using this metric to draw comparisons between countries, Marmara noted that while it is possible to draw such comparisons between, there are several variables which must be understood when doing that.  It will be much easier to draw comparisons once the pandemic has ended, he noted.

“One must be careful as different measures taken by different countries can give calculations which are not directly comparable.  So, at the end we can compare like with like – but the fact that different countries took different measures at different times, means that now we would not be comparing like with like”, he explained.

He noted that, in his opinion, the most important rate of comparison is the reproduction rate.

“The reproduction rate is how much a person transmits to other people.  At the moment it is 1 is to 1.5 in Malta, meaning that one person would transmit the virus to 1.5 persons – effectively meaning that two people transmit it to three people”, he explained.

He noted that the rate is slightly higher than that for influenza, and that there are various dangerous variables that can affect it, such as the fact that there is a lengthier incubation period, and that 80% of those who do have the virus have such mild symptoms that they do not know they have the virus but can still spread it to others.

At 1 is to 1.5, Malta’s reproduction rate is lower than that of the United Kingdom, Spain or Italy – something which Marmara puts down to the early measures which were taken to internally control the spread of the virus.

Marmara stressed however – this figure is not one which anyone can rest their laurels on. The number is still one which should be worried about because, without control, it can still lead to a significant of infections.

All the measures which are being taken, he said, are being taken so as to reduce this reproduction rate, in the hope that it eventually dips below the rate of 1 is to 1. At that point, the internal spread would be decreasing, and we can say that we are slowly eradicating the epidemic at a local level, he said.

“Malta hasn’t been hit like Italy or Spain, probably because we took our decisions beforehand”, Marmara said; however, he noted that there are other factors or incidents which may result in a large spread which would see the patient numbers rise quickly.

An example of such an incident, Marmara noted, can be the Atalanta versus Valencia Champions League match – which Bergamo’s mayor had described as a “biological bomb” which infected some 40,000 people. 

He noted that Malta seemed to have controlled the situation, as has been recognized by the World Health Organisation – but specific cases, such as for instance the recently announced case of a supermarket worker, which have the potential of a lot of contact may yet have a major effect on the rate and numbers which have been seen so far.


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