The Malta Independent 8 March 2021, Monday

TMID Editorial: Covid-19 - Solve the queues

Tuesday, 19 January 2021, 08:37 Last update: about 3 months ago

Having the elderly queue for the Covid-19 vaccine is not only unacceptable, but also dangerous.

On Friday afternoon, a video published on social media showed elderly people queuing outside the Gzira health centre in the rain, awaiting their Covid-19 vaccine.

This video raised a number of concerns. Firstly, it was a cold day, not exactly ideal conditions for anyone, let alone the elderly, to be kept waiting outside.

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Secondly, in the middle of a pandemic, with the elderly being the most vulnerable to Covid-19, surely the aim would not be for them to be kept waiting in close quarters to others.

The Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses has called for vaccination appointments to be more spread out after the incident, threatening industrial action if changes are not made to the current system.

The health authorities, however, cannot be completely to blame. There have been reports of people showing up very early for their vaccine appointment. This will result in them having to wait.  Speaking on Friday, Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci acknowledged overcrowding at some vaccine stations but attributed it to people not sticking to appointment times and showing up early. She said: "I was at health centres this week and saw people who showed up two hours early." She urged people to show up for vaccination at their allotted time, not early or late.

The country is still quite early on in the vaccination programme, and these issues need to be addressed immediately.

The government and the public health authorities should learn from these issues and improve their system, by perhaps spreading out appointments more in vaccination locations, better informing the people not to turn up early and, hopefully, by working on opening more centres around the islands in order to speed up the process, reduce crowding and reduce the travel distance for those wishing to be vaccinated.

The swab testing centres operate very well, and are well organised. So it is not as though organisation is an issue at all levels. This queuing situation is hopefully just a teething problem.

While the health authorities continue to administer vaccinations, the Covid-19 daily numbers have been quite high as of late. The Economy minister announced that the government will not be issuing the latest round of economic vouchers as yet. The second round of Covid-19 vouchers will be issued when the situation improves and the number of Covid-19 cases decrease sharply, Minister Silvio Schembri had told the Malta Independent.

While this might not be the best news for businesses, it surely is the better decision. Having people rush to shops and restaurants will likely create crowds and increase the risk of transmission.

In addition, a welcome announcement last week was that the health authorities are starting to provide updates on the vaccination programme. The government was criticised for a lack of transparency on this issue, and these updates will allow everyone to keep track of the country’s progress.

So while the health authorities need to up their game when it comes to the logistics involved in administering vaccinations, the other aspects of virus control, at least for now, are being well handled.

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