On this day a year ago, Mater Dei nurse Rachel Grech woke up as the first Maltese person to receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
365 days, one million doses, a booster and a bunch of virus variants later, what does the situation look like when compared to 2020?
New infections and active cases
Looking at it from a purely new cases point of view, the situation doesn’t look too good.
On this day last year, Malta registered 101 new cases, for a total of 1,420 active cases.
Today, Malta registered 1,298 new cases – the highest ever and the only time the islands have ever had quadruple-digits – for a total of 7,735 active cases.
That’s 14 times more new infections, and nearly six times more active cases.
But as the world came to realise – especially in the past year – one number on its own rarely means anything at all. Especially when you take into consideration all the different variables coming into play over the last 365 days.
On this day in 2020, Malta registered five deaths.
The day before, it was another four deaths.
The day before, it was another three.
That’s 12 COVID-19-related deaths in 72 hours, and a total of 78 deaths in December 2020.
Until now, December 2021 has had eight deaths in 28 days.
Hospitalisations and patients in ITU
Unfortunately, as part of a shift in how the daily numbers have been reported throughout the past year (which used to focus more on infection sources and potential hotspots back in 2020), hospitalisation numbers for last December are not readily available in the same way they are nowadays.
Of course, this is down to a number of reasons – this time last year, Malta had a number of ITU wards all working overtime at the same time, and without a vaccine, any case could technically end up becoming more serious. In fact, that is something which is instantly reflected in Malta’s December 2020 virus-related deaths and the current ones.
What we do know, however, is what the situation was like in various moments between the two dates. And the downward trajectory is very clear.
Nine months ago, during the last big wave of infections, Malta’s hospitalisations stood at 7.5% of the island’s active cases.
Four months ago, when Malta announced it would be restarting standing events for vaccinated people and kicking off the booster campaign, 5.4% of Malta’s active cases required hospitalsation.
By four days ago, that percentage had dropped to 1.6%.
Today, it’s 1.06%.
As far as ITU goes, Malta’s current percentage drop is even more significant – 0.06% of the island’s current active cases are in ITU, compared to the 1.1% from nine months ago.
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Measures and restrictions
Towards the end of October 2020, Malta closed all bars and każini. And they not only stayed closed for Christmas 2020, but actually remained shut down for 221 straight days, only reopening on 7th June of this year.
During last year’s festive period, snack bars and kiosks could open… but had to close by 11pm.
As for events, of course, those were all things promoters and attendees alike could only dream about back in December 2020.
Fast forward to 2021, and this month has seen a multitude of events, from sold-out concerts to late-night raves. It was in fact just yesterday, 27th December, that Malta went back to seated events, banning standing events which had been allowed to happen as of 6th September (one week before the booster doses became available immunosuppressed individuals and elderly home residents).
The requirement for establishments to close earlier is also back, but it’s now 1am, not 11pm.
With five times more active cases, Malta has nearly seven times less hospitalisations and nearly 10 times less deaths. So what’s changed since December 2020?
Well, three main things did, and they’re all very important to keep in mind going into 2022.
Firstly, a whole lot more people contracted the virus.
On 28th December 2020, Malta had 12,426 all-time total cases. Today, there’s more than half of that number just active right now.
With more and more people being infected in the last couple of months – especially during the last two significant waves of last March and this December – more people have developed natural immunity through antibodies obtained after infection.
Secondly, everything is pointing towards Omicron being COVID-19 most infectious and least harmful variant yet.
The thing about viruses is that, as a general rule, the higher their mortality or serious illness rate is, the lower their infectiousness tends to be (and the other way round). With viruses being alive, this pattern of ratios is just the way these living organisms flourish and succeed in their mission.
And considering Omicron is proving to be the most infectious variant of COVID-19 yet but also 70% less likely to need hospital care, it looks like the repetitive pattern is currently underway.
Thirdly, and most vitally, Malta went from one person being vaccinated to over 90% of the country receiving the jab. And nearly half of those already have a booster dose.
Rachel Grech might’ve been first and alone on the 27th of December 2020 to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but since then, Malta gave out over one million doses. Of those, 198,772 were booster doeses.
Long touted to be the necessary measure to reduce the more adverse effects of COVID-19 well before potentially less serious variants like Omicron, vaccines have gradually lowered Malta’s hospitalisation rates, even as new infections continue to inflate.
And if one year to the day after Malta’s Head of the Infectious Diseases Unit had to clarify that the jab won’t “affect your genetics”, people still need to be told that the vaccine works, maybe this entire year’s worth of data will help instead.
What do you make of this? Sound off in the comments