Fears that Malta’s hospitals could be hit by a double surge of both COVID-19 and influenza cases this winter have receded, with Charmaine Gauci confirming the number of flu cases has been very low this year.
Interviewed on L-Erbgħa Fost il-Ġimgħa last night, the Superintendent of Public Health said measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have also worked to prevent the spread of the flu.
“The number of flu cases was very low this year because of measures such as hand-washing, social distancing, and mask-wearing but there were still patients with respiratory problems who had to be hospitalised due to exacerbations of their illness,” she said.
Malta’s situation with regards to low flu cases reflects that of other countries, including the United States and Israel.
Amid fears that hospitals could end up flooded by patients suffering from both COVID-19 and the flu, the Health Ministry embarked on a rigorous flu shot campaign, vaccinating a record 157,000 people in a few months.
However, while flu cases have declined, COVID-19 cases have shot back up. Indeed, over the past week, Malta has been registering a daily average of 192 new COVID-19 cases, the second highest rolling average since the start of the pandemic.
Gauci attributed the current surge to gatherings held over the Christmas and New Year period, confirming that contact tracers have linked several cases to festive parties.
“We had warned of this situation because we know that the virus spreads when people meet each other and we were already preparing in advance for what could happen after the festivities. Many people obeyed our advice and stayed indoors, but some decided to meet up with other people and rent out apartments for parties. We’re now seeing the consequence of this behaviour and are doing our best to isolate the positive cases and bring the numbers down with the controls we have in place.”
She played down calls for new measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, arguing that restrictions must be proportionate to the situation.
“During the first wave, we didn’t know much about the virus or its impact so we did our utmost to limit it. However, we now know that it will be with us for a while so we must be careful when implementing mitigation measures. Right now we’re still in the phase of finding cases linked to festive gatherings and we must see whether the numbers will go down or not.”
“If they keep increasing we’ll have to assess the situation, but if they go down we won’t need to impose new measures.