The Malta Independent 18 April 2024, Thursday
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3 years on - Death threats, false rumours: people’s reaction to one of the first Covid-19 patients

Marc Galdes Sunday, 12 March 2023, 07:30 Last update: about 2 years ago

One of the first people to contract Covid-19 in Malta three years ago was sent “death threats” after false rumours about breaching quarantine were spread online.

Three years have passed since the first Covid-19 case was reported in Malta, on 7 March 2020. This had sent Malta into panic mode as so little was known about the virus at the time, except that it was highly contagious. The fear of the unknown was predominant and it was evident from the way people flooded supermarkets, clearing shelves of essentials.

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But how was it for the first people who contracted the virus in Malta?

The Malta Independent on Sunday conducted an interview with one of the very first victims to contract Covid-19 in Malta, who shared their experience of fear and online harassment, all the while being isolated and not being able to see their mother and brother for seven weeks.

This person contracted the virus while they were abroad with their father and some other friends. At the time, the virus had begun to spread rapidly and for the first time, Malta implemented the 14-day mandatory quarantine for people coming from certain parts of the world. So upon arriving back in Malta, everyone on this trip went straight into quarantine.

“It was the very end of February when we came back and I was at home in my dad’s house. About a week later my dad was feeling really sick and his wife contacted the authorities so that we get tested just in case we had the virus.”

The two of them were “positive”, but unlike the father, they had no symptoms. At the time, since they were the very first cases, they were escorted by the police to Mater Dei hospital where they were kept for treatment.

Asked how they felt during this moment, they said: “It was pretty scary as we were hearing about 700 people dying a day in Italy, and we were stuck in a hospital room where the nurses and doctors would come in and treat us with full hazmat suits on. We didn't know what was going on.”

“All of Malta was panicking, so everything happening outside the hospital was pretty chaotic but all the nurses and doctors were very professional with everything. They treated us very well, they were all very nice and they wanted us to feel as comfortable and unpanicked as possible.”

While all this was happening, towards the end of the week, this person’s identity got leaked and they started to get harassed online over the weekend.

Asked how this began they said that while they were abroad, they posted a picture on their Instagram story of the inside of a bar. This picture remained on their page as part of the “highlights” of this trip.

Since this person’s page was public at the time, people found this picture and began sharing it all over social media. This sparked a rumour claiming that this photo was taken in a bar in Malta when they were supposed to be in quarantine.

This person added that the photo shared was titled with the name of the place they were staying at abroad. However, this crucial information proving that the photo was not taken in Malta, was removed and was not there on the images shared all over social media.

“The title of the place was removed and people played it off that I was in a bar in Malta that weekend when I was supposed to be in quarantine.”

“I found out because people were informing me of people posting all over Facebook saying a lot of stuff that wasn't true, people that I don't know, people that I've never known, never met in my life. They were posting a whole bunch of stuff about me and this picture and saying that I was out in Paceville over the weekend before we went into the hospital. There were pictures of my face going around in Facebook groups, that I wasn't even a part of.”

The rumours became so twisted that on one occasion there was someone claiming to be their significant other and saying that they were together in Paceville over the weekend.

This person also explained that their father was foreign, and they were half-foreign and half-Maltese. At the time, news had reported that the two new cases were foreign.

“This kicked up more of a stir; I was told to leave the country and to go back to where I came from.”

“I was told that if I was ever seen in public I would be beaten. A guy told me that if any of his friends or his family contracted Covid that it would be my fault and that he would come after me. All my relatives and dead relatives were sworn at. Someone else wished that Covid would pass for everyone except me and that I would develop some sort of cancer in my throat.”

Asked if they felt like the scapegoat, they agreed and said that it seemed like “everyone was looking to blame someone”.

In reaction to all the threats and hate this person received online they decided to deactivate all their social media accounts, so they had no idea of the extent of the harassment they were receiving online.

“I privatised my accounts and switched everything off, there wasn't much I could do. I wasn't going to sit there reading this all day.”

After a while, they said that everything calmed down and people began to forget about the whole situation, especially as numbers began to rise.

They said that once they reactivated their account, they had over 5,000 follow requests on Instagram, and it took them over an hour to delete all of them.

Once everything calmed down this person reported anyone who sent them a threat as a private message to the police. Out of the circa 11 reports they filed, they received a date for a court case around a year-and-a-half later concerning two of the offenders, which were both eventually fined. The police have not contacted them regarding the other reports.

Overall, this person said that they want to put this incident behind them and they do not feel the need to put pressure on the authorities for the other reports.

 

Covid in numbers: as at 7 March, last available

117,610 cases

116,617 recoveries

828 deaths

273 active

 

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