How Malta managed the Coronavirus first wave – can other Islands learn a lesson?
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Malta’s Success With the COVID-19 Cases

Malta has dealt well with the Coronavirus pandemic, managing to keep their total number of cases well below 1,000, and deaths in single figures.

While this may not seem so very remarkable for an island with a total population of around half a million people, in fact, it represents the effective working of government and medical authorities, who responded promptly to news of the Coronavirus outbreak and put plans into place very early on. Let us take a look at some of the factors that played into the success of Malta’s coronavirus response.

Thinking Ahead

While other countries were focussing on other matters, in January and February, Malta was already considering the potential impact of the virus on the country.

The Director for Health was hopeful at the end of January, saying that the lack of direct flights to Malta from China – at that time the only country known to be impacted by the spread of the virus – would mean minimal exposure for the islanders.

However, within mere days, as more information about the severity of the worst cases and the ready infectiousness of the disease became known, thermal screening processes were put into place at all ports of entry. This was an effective way of quickly screening a lot of people, enabling even non-medically trained personnel to pick out those who had an elevated temperature.

Anyone presenting with respiratory symptoms at the Mater Dei hospital was tested for COVID-19 – something that countries that ended up with much higher infection and death rates tended to delay on, either due to bureaucratic incompetence or because they did not have access to the necessary tests (sometimes a mixture of both).

COVID-19 Measures

Even the long arm of the law was impacted by the virus and Malta’s preventative measures, with the dramatic case that involved accusations of corruption against as many as eighteen judges and public figures, murdered journalists, and much other chicanery surrounding Marian Kocner and many of his alleged associates, including financial advisor Christian Ellul and his partner being put on hold while measures were taken to ensure the sanitary conditions required to keep all parties in good health.

The population of Malta seems to have grasped, readily and willingly, the fact that the virus was real, was very infectious and potentially lethal, with almost every sector embracing steps designed to reduce contact, contamination and potential infection by the disease, control and prevention method.

By the end of February – by which time the rest of the western world and the middle east were only just beginning to believe in the severity of the disease – Malta’s containment and decontamination processes were already in place alongside social distancing measures and the vast majority wearing face coverings for their own health care. Contact tracing was another thing Malta began using to help see where the coronavirus was emerging.

This essentially put Malta a month ahead of the global wave of infections, and enabled the island to avoid a huge spike in infections.

Controlling The Virus

Being an island certainly helped. When all ports of entry can be rigorously monitored, it is easier to ensure that each person coming into the country is tested. Compare this with, for example, the mainland EU, where an infected person could, in the early days, travel right across the continent, potentially taking the virus with them.

Of course, the island couldn’t avoid all infections, and their first cases were announced on the 7th of March. In a pattern recognisable over much of the world where reasonable social distancing and lockdown systems have been put in place, about a month after the first confirmed cases, the island’s infections peaked. However, because of their early adoption of processes and the civil obedience of the population the island’s worst day was a relatively light 53 confirmed cases.

From this peak, Malta saw a steady decline, with a small resurgence of cases two or three weeks after some lockdown measures were relaxed. Up till the first ten days of July, Malta only saw four new cases – a rate of infection that medical facilities and supplies are easily able to cope with.

A Second Wave?

As of 1st of July, Malta began opening its borders again for commercial flights and as of 15th of July more countries have been put on a safe list for travelling to Malta. With a sudden influx of foreigners into the country together with the organining of events targeting the masses, this has inevitably led to a relative spike in confirmed coronavirus cases. As of 1st of August the cases that tested positive for the Coronavirus now stand at 171. This has led to many mixed reactions from civilians.

Some people have called for the closure of borders again, while others have said that flattening the curve is what needs to be done and businesses need to continue as usual if they are to survive the second wave of the virus

Due to the spike in COVID-19 cases, the United Kingdom has placed 2 week quarantine restriction measures for arrivals from Malta. Other European countries have also followed suit by implementing restrictions on arrivals from Malta. Can countries learn something from Malta’s first encounter, or do we need to act different for the second wave?

This is a tough decision to take as we are balancing human lives with economic survival. Suffice to say that Malta’s economy will be largely hit if the borders are closed again for a second time this year.