The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

Six Covid-19 patients receiving care in ITU, as average age of cases continues to decrease - Gauci

Karl Azzopardi Friday, 16 October 2020, 12:25 Last update: about 7 days ago

Six Covid-19 cases are currently receiving treatment in Mater Dei's Intensive Therapy Unit as the average age of new cases continued to decrease in the past week, Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci said during her weekly briefing on the situation of the pandemic in Malta.

The briefing comes as Malta faces a record high number of active cases of Covid-19, amidst daily increases which are consistently over 100 cases.

A record number of 122 cases of Covid-19 was reported on Friday, with 36 new recoveries - hence taking the number of active cases up to 1,095.

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It also comes as the government mulls adding new restrictions and measures in order to curb the spread of the pandemic.  A press conference in this regard is expected to be held later on Friday.

Addressing the briefing, Gauci said that there are six people currently receiving treatment in the Intensive Therapy Unit at Mater Dei Hospital.

Those in ITU are all below the age of 72 years, Gauci said, answering a question from The Malta Independent.

12 people meanwhile are receiving treatment at the Infectious Diseases Unit in Mater Dei, while another 14 people are receiving treatment in other wards at Mater Dei.

14 people meanwhile are in Boffa Hospital and 19 are in St. Thomas Hospital.  One person is receiving treatment at Karen Grech Hospital, another is at Mount Carmel Hospital, and another is at Gozo General Hospital.

Speaking about the clusters of cases which have been found in the past week, Gauci said that by far the largest collective cluster is that of family clusters, where 165 new cases in this regard were found in the last week.

She emphasised that if a member of a family tests positive, they should isolate from the rest of the family, using a different bathroom and also not eating with the rest of the family during mealtimes.

Another 40 cases were traced to different workplace clusters, and here Gauci emphasised the use of masks on the workplace especially where desks cannot be socially distanced, and noted that if possible, teleworking should be implemented where possible and that work colleagues should avoid meeting outside in social settings.

Another 14 cases have been traced to gatherings; while a further 14 cases were traced to sports.  11 more cases were traced to Paceville, and another 8 were imported cases.  In a positive sense, only one case in the past week was found in nursing homes – which had been a hotbed of cases in recent weeks.

The eight imported cases were found from a total of 155 tests carried out. Six of those came from France, one came from Spain, and another came from the Czech Republic.  The total number of imported cases found since the airport re-opened now stands at 32 out of 1,138 tests.

Out of the 1,095 active cases that Malta currently has, Gauci said that 18 of them are in Gozo.

She said that most of the cases found in the last week fall into the 25 to 34 years of age bracket, and that the average age of new cases found has decreased for another week, now standing at 38.4 – showing that the elderly are being protected from the virus more.

Gauci emphasised again on physical distancing and the avoidance of crowds, noting that despite legal restrictions banning public gatherings of over 10 people there are still crowds being observed.  She also emphasised the importance of wearing masks in order to protect others, and that if one develops symptoms of the virus – which still include fever, gastro-intestinal symptoms and the loss of smell or taste – one should immediately call 111 for a swab test.

She also once again encouraged people to download the contact tracing app, noting that 74,318 people have downloaded the app so far and that 78 positive cases have used to app by inserting the code given to them by authorities and alerting people who were in contact with them through the app.

The Malta Independent asked if there are young people who are being admitted to hospital seeing that the average age of new cases is between 25-35 years.

She explained that the 6 cases at the ITU are under the age of 72 while the cases pertaining to the IDU include a person over 80 years and another 10 who are under the 76-years-old.

Additionally, this newsroom asked if it is true that the contact tracing team is not keeping up with the demand as The Malta Chamber said in a statement this morning. Gauci did not say if the team is struggling with the demand, however, she explained that the authorities have opened an Expression of Interest for the contact tracing team. 

She appealed for anyone who is being contacted by the authorities to do a bit of homework on where they think they went over the past two weeks so as to quicken the contact tracing process. 

Asked for further clarification on Prime Minister Robert Abela’s statement that there will be more enforcement in the coming days, the Superintendent said that the authorities are evaluating what measures will be relevant to the current situation. New measures are expected to be announced this weekend. 

She also pointed out that wearing a mask is not enough as one has to ensure that they are getting the best protection from it. Masks should be tight and fit one’s face well to prevent it from sliding off. People should make sure that their mask covers their nose and mouth and is securely tucked under their chin to prevent aerosols from entering. Finally, people should not touch their mask with their hands which might be contaminated from touching surfaces and also have a spare at their disposal just in case.

Gauci was asked about the topic of non-essential travelling which was discouraged at the start of the pandemic and if the health authorities still stand by this idea despite the airport reopening.

“This is a topic that is being discussed at EU level in order to see how each state member can protect others by controlling the spread of the virus in its own country and reduce risk of imported cases. However, we are seeing an increase abroad as well, this is why we have the law to have a test prior to travelling to other countries.”

Gauci was also asked about rumours that health professionals are being asked to report to the primary health care department.

The Superintendent explained that the numbers are what they are, but our strategy is the same, that is to catch out the virus as early as possible. This meant that the public health team had to be expanded to bring in more doctors who are working on rotation. From next Monday there will be 8 new doctors working in this sector.

Asked about a person’s immunity towards the virus, Gauci said that from what is known about other Coronavirus types and through anti-body studies on this virus particularly, a person who tests positive does not develop enough antibodies to prevent reinfection.    

She added that there are also T-cell memories wherein white blood cells in our brain memorise encounters with viruses. However, it is yet unclear how long this can prevent the virus from reinfecting a person, the average which is being stipulated is 4 months. The vaccine is important for this reason, as it gives further protection to one’s natural immune system.

“Some might think that it would be better to get the virus to grow immune to it but from what we know one’s immunity will not be as strong or even last for long enough so it is better to prevent going through the negative effects of infection and stay protected from it.”

You can listen to the briefing below, while refreshing for further details above:

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