The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

The virus is alive and thriving in the community

Noel Grima Sunday, 17 May 2020, 08:19 Last update: about 12 days ago

For two consecutive days (I am writing this on Friday afternoon and the situation may have changed by the time you get to read this article) the number of confirmed virus cases has shot up.

The experts will have to see if this is a spike and if this means we are now in the second wave of the pandemic. As on Friday, the famous R factor stood at 1.3 when the benchmark is 1.0 over a longer time-frame.

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We have now reached the third phase of the pandemic. The first was when most cases were being brought in by people who had been abroad.

The second phase, still ongoing, relates to people who seem to have been infected by hospital or through contact with health workers. Things should not have gone that way. I am reminded of George Scott who in one old film expostulated: “We get a patient who is healthy and we then make that patient sick.”

There seem to be at least two hotspots – the ENT ward at Mater Dei and a ward in Karen Grech Hospital. The virus has been quite indiscriminate, targeting patients and health workers alike.

These past two days, then, we have been finding people who get infected in the community. This can only mean one thing  - the virus is alive and kicking out there, in the community.

The health authorities tell us in each case they are doing contact tracing but they never come back and disclose the results of their efforts.

So lack of knowledge leads to public speculation. Or maybe the health authorities themselves never find the possible infector.

But then, seeing the vast numbers out and about and the people in supermarkets and retail outlets, it is legitimate to speculate that the virus is being spread around by people who are disregarding the rules of social distancing thus endangering both themselves and others, especially the old and the vulnerable.

Maybe we will again be lucky and the coming spike can be contained but there’s no saying. People in general have no idea of the virus' danger, the easy way it can spread around, the suffering of those who get seriously infected.

And also, people are bored to death staying in, with all the restrictions, and with bars and restaurants, that is where people relax and meet.

The experience of other countries, such as China, has shown the depths of despair that came over many people after five weeks of lockdown when they started to realise the virus is not going away. And we have passed the five weeks benchmark already.

The virus is not going away. We must get this straight. Maybe a vaccine may be found but it is still months away, at best. Maybe other methods of analysis may be found, but they will first have to be validated.

But maybe there is another way to tackle this. The number of swabs or tests that are being carried out is on the increase. Is this the time, I ask, to go strategic about it, by taking group after group and systematically testing everyone? After all, this is what was done at Hal Far.

Those who must be tested first should be those who come in contact with people, such as bus drivers, shop assistants and the like. And shops which have been thus cleaned will only be too happy to exhibit a certificate of attestation.

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