The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

One month since first Coronavirus case: How Malta dealt with outbreak

Albert Galea Tuesday, 7 April 2020, 09:01 Last update: about 3 months ago

A month has now passed since the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in Malta.  One month since Maltese day-to-day life changed, with measure after measure being introduced to try and curb the spread of the novel virus.

A 12-year old girl and her parents were the first confirmed cases of the virus in Malta after they returned to the island from a holiday in Trentino, Italy.  Since then, there have been a total of 241 cases – of which five have since recovered and three have been placed in Mater Dei Hospital’s Intensive Therapy Unity.

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A timeline put together by The Malta Independent shows how the situation has developed in the last month, detailing the spread of the virus, the restrictive health measures put in place in order to mitigate the spread of the virus and turn it from a “tsunami” into a “steady stream” - as Health Minister Chris Fearne has described it - and economic measures and aid to safeguard people’s jobs.

While a month has now passed since the virus first reared its head in Malta, Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci has repeatedly emphasized that the peak of the virus is yet to come.  It has been clear from the onset that the main intention of public health authorities has been to “flatten the curve” – with the curve being the rate of infection of the virus across the population.

The more that curve is flattened, the more spread out the number of cases will be.  This means that while it will take longer for the virus to run its course, it will also run its course without overwhelming the country’s health services – as has happened in Spain and Italy, for instance.

In reaching this goal, the government has spent the month gradually extending its public health measures while continually emphasizing that people should stay indoors.

On the economic front meanwhile, the government also introduced measures intended to safeguard people’s jobs. Their initial measures were roundly cricitised as being woefully inadequate, but their last package – launched later after an agreement with all social partners – seems to have been more effective.

Speaking to The Malta Independent on Sunday last weekend in fact, Malta Enterprise CEO Kurt Farrugia estimated that some 35,000 jobs had been saved as a direct result of the package.

In the meantime, though, the fight against the virus and its spread continues in earnest.

Timeline of Events: How Malta has dealt with the Covid-19 outbreak, one month later

24 February: Thermal screening is introduced for all passengers arriving in Malta through the Malta International Airport and the Grand Harbour.

25 February: The Health Ministry recommends a 14-day quarantine period for all those coming to Malta from Italy. Frenzied panic ensues as people flock to supermarkets, emptying their shelves.

7 March: A 12-year old girl and her parents become the first confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Malta.  They had holidayed in Trentino, Italy, and had quarantined themselves upon arrival.

10 March: Malta elects to ban all travel to and from Italy.  Public gatherings are also restricted to 2,000 people outdoors, and 750 indoors.

11 March: Travel bans on trips to Germany, France, Spain, and Switzerland follow. Anyone travelling back to Malta from those countries must follow a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine period or risk a 1,000 fine for each offence.

12 March: Prime Minister Robert Abela announces the closure of all schools, university, and childcare centres for a week as of the following day.  Day centres for the elderly are also closed, political activities are cancelled, senior football games are to be played behind closed doors, mass activities unless absolutely necessary are restricted, and a dispensation from the obligation of Catholic mass is given for the first time since 1813.

13 March: Mandatory quarantine is extended to travellers returning from any country. Meanwhile. with the case count now at 13, Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci reports the first recovery from the virus in Malta.  A second recovery is reported two days later.

14 March: The Prime Minister says that provisional tax, VAT and social security contributions which businesses and self-employed are due to pay to the government will be suspended for March and April.

16 March: Prime Minister Abela announces the closure of all gyms, bars, and restaurants. The latter two are only allowed to operate if they offer a take-away or delivery service.  Meanwhile, the fines for skipping out on mandatory quarantine is tripled to 3,000 for each offence. The first cases of local transmission of the virus are also reported.

18 March: The government unveils an economic package worth some 1.8 billion.  Most of it is made up of tax deferrals and loan guarantees, while it also includes a 210 million injection into the economy.

19 March: 12 days after the first cases were confirmed, the case total exceeds 50 – reaching a total of 53.

20 March: Malta’s borders are slammed shut with all travel into the airport stopped. Only government organised repatriation flights and flights taking tourists back to their countries are run.

22 March: Health Minister Chris Fearne announces the banning of all organised gatherings and the closure of non-essential retail outlets and services. Infringers would be charged €3,000 for each offence.  

23 March: 17 new cases in 24 hours sees the case total hit 107 – exceeding the 100 mark. The fine for those who test positive and break instructions to isolate is increased to 10,000.

24 March: The government unveils a new economic aid package after its previous package was met with widespread criticism across the board.  The package sees the government subsidise private companies hit hardest by the virus outbreak with 800 per month per employee, while the companies agreed to pay a further €400 per worker per month in the deal.  A secondary package with less financial aid was also unveiled for those sectors which have not been hit as hard.  Meanwhile, a call for a pre-fabricated hospital to cater for 90 patients is issued by the government.

26 March: Health Minister Fearne announces that groups of more than five people will be dispersed by police with immediate effect while people aged over 65, pregnant women, and all others who have chronic illnesses are being requested to stay at home.

28 March: It is announced that schools will remain closed till the end of the scholastic year in June. MATSEC Intermediate and Advanced exams will take place in September, while Ordinary level exams will be replaced by a predictive assessment method based on marks obtained during mock exams. In the case of the latter, there is also the opportunity for the sessions to be held in September.

30 March: Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri announces that group gatherings will be limited to three members.  Groups of four or more people caught in public by the police will be fined 100 for each person.  Families who form part of the same household are the only ones who are exempt from the said fines.

1 April: A legal notice is issued declaring a public health emergency retroactive to 7 March.

3 April: The cases reach a total of 202 – with 200 of those being active since no new recoveries had been registered since 15 March.

5 April: The number of migrants who tested positive for the virus rises to 8, prompting authorities to lockdown the Hal Far reception centre, where some 1,000 immigrants live together, and where the 8 cases reside.  

6 April: The case total reaches 241, with three more recoveries – including that of the 12-year old girl who was Malta’s first diagnosed patient – being reported as well. Of the 241 cases, there are 145 men and 96 women. The age groups are 9 cases who are under 14; 104 cases who are between 15 and 34 years; 90 cases who are between 35 and 59 years; and 38 cases who are over 60 years.

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