The Malta Independent 25 October 2020, Sunday

Indepth: Prefab hospital needed as Malta could end up battling two viruses concurrently – Gauci

INDEPTH online Friday, 24 April 2020, 07:00 Last update: about 7 months ago

The prefabricated hospital project should continue because, come winter, Malta will be dealing with two viruses concurrently – the Coronavirus and the seasonal influenza – Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci said on this week’s edition of Indepth.

The government recently launched a tender for the supply and construction of a prefab facility that can treat up to 90 Covid-19 patients. The tender was suspended, and an investigation was launched after a PN MP claimed that the process was vitiated. The claims later turned out to be untrue and the process got underway again.

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The Malta Independent media consultant Rachel Attard asked Gauci whether Malta needs such a facility given that the number of new Coronavirus registered over the past few days has been small.

Replying, Gauci said the health authorities have a duty to protect the Maltese people and have to be prepared for any eventuality.

“It is better to have extra beds and equipment and not use it than end up in need of these resources,” she said.

“This crisis is not affecting Malta only. All countries need the same resources – beds, ventilators, protective equipment and medicines. Globally, there is a great need for such resources, and it is better to be prepared. We invested heavily in our health system because, unfortunately, the Coronavirus kills people. We cannot put our minds at rest just because the numbers are low. We have to be prepared for all eventualities. Preparations have to continue, and this is what we are doing. They should be proportional to what we expect according to our monitoring.”

Gauci continued that the authorities are not only thinking about the weeks ahead, “but also for the summer, and the winter, when we will see an increase in influenza cases.”

Malta will then be fighting two viruses concurrently. “We will experience the usual influx of patients in our hospitals, particularly elderly and vulnerable people. These are individuals who are as likely to get sick of Covid-19 as they are of influenza. We have to be prepared.”

 

Why the numbers are low

Asked why Malta has been registering so few cases over the past days, Gauci said this was thanks to the measures taken, experience and lessons learnt from other countries.

“Initially, we were seeing a number of cases which were related to travel. In the second stage, people who live with those infected abroad became infected themselves. Then we had local transmission.”

Gauci said the authorities managed the situation well through the introduction of social distancing measures, regulated by new legislation, as well as active case finding.

“It’s good that current numbers are low, but we need to ensure that we identify all cases in the community. We are worried that there might be people who have the virus but don’t realise.”

 

Gauci also added that people who fail to turn up for testing. “These people can be the fuel for this pandemic to start spreading again,” she warned. Whether Malta experiences a second wave depends on how much the public cooperates, she continued.

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Earlier story

While some Covid-19 measures could be eased soon, we will not be returning to how things were in December "any time soon," Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci said on this week's edition of Indepth.

Interviewed by The Malta Independent media consultant Rachel Attard, Gauci said people should not expect the country to go back to how things were during Christmas just yet.

"It is very difficult to return to normality at this stage. The only way to return to complete normality is to have immunity from the Coronavirus. That can only be achieved when we have a vaccine."

Asked what kind of measures could be lifted first, Gauci said the health authorities are still analysing the situation. "Any decision will have to be taken with great responsibility."

The health chief said the fact that some people are not turning up for tests is worrying. "This means that there might be unknown cases in the community, and these people could be the fuel for this pandemic to start spreading again."

Referring to countries that experienced a second wave, Gauci said that whether this will also happen in Malta depends on how much the public cooperates with the guidelines issued by the health authorities.

Social distancing will remain for now, she said. "If we relax these measures, you might go out there and meet with people who are carrying the virus without even knowing."

She added that the risk of infection is higher in Malta because of the density of the population and our culture of close-knit families.

Gauci said the numbers in Malta remained low because the authorities introduced necessary measures quickly. "We also had previous experience in dealing with pandemics and, because Malta was among the last countries to be affected, we also learnt from other countries."


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