Malta’s health authorities have set up a coordinating team for a national response in the face of the novel coronavirus which has already claimed 56 lives worldwide – and people have been ringing the emergency helpline constantly since then.
The team is taking the “necessary precautions” such as increased surveillance and preparedness in case of finding an infected person, added posters and banners at key points of travel such as the airport and increased communication with the media. Infection control measures were also being rolled out by the team being led by the Superintendence of Public Health, Dr Charmaine Gauci.
While the potential for the spread of the virus, which originated in China, remains “low” according to European health authorities, many in Malta have been shook by the news – and have been calling the Infectious Disease Prevention and Control Unit’s emergency helpline with a multitude of questions.
Dr Gauci said her helpline was “being kept busy“answering questions from people “seeking clarifications or assurances to quell their anxieties about the spread of the disease”.
People are asking whether they can still eat Chinese food.
The answer to that being yes, you can still eat Chinese food – the coronavirus is not transmitted through food, Gauci noted.
Other people asked what to do if they had ordered some online packages or products from China recently.
Gauci noted that the virus survives by travelling from human to human, and cannot survive in the general environment for more than 24 to 48 hours. Since packages from China generally take much longer to arrive in Malta, they will be safe.
People also wanted to know whether they should be worried about friends visiting Malta from China.
Gauci said that coming from China does not mean that you will automatically have the infection.
If a traveller exhibits any of the symptoms relating to the coronavirus, then the person should stay at home and avoid contact with other people, and call the public health authorities on 21324086.
The coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China.
Following the first reports of a cluster of pneumonia cases in the Chinese Wuhan municipality at the end of December 2019, Chinese authorities identified a new coronavirus which is genetically related to SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV at the beginning of 2020 as a causative agent.
To date, almost 500 human infections in China as well as exported cases in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the United States have been confirmed. The outbreak in Wuhan has initially been linked to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting a possible zoonotic origin to the outbreak.
However, so far, the source of infection remains unknown and can therefore still be active, which could lead to further cases being detected. The outbreak investigations are on-going and in this rapidly evolving context.
The WHO convened on Wednesday 22nd of January and Thursday 23rd January an Emergency Committee to determine if this outbreak should be categorised as a PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concerns).
It was decided that it is too early to declare a PHEIC, however, WHO called for all countries to have preparedness and response plans in place with a focus on early detection, testing, and isolation of cases.
There is constant communication with WHO, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the EU Health Security Committee. The European Council is organising regular teleconferences for all Member States to which Malta Public Health authorities participate to receive updates and advice on actions.
If you plan on travelling anytime soon keep these precautions in mind:
a. Avoid visiting wet markets or places where live or dead animals are handled.
b. Avoid contact with sick persons, in particular with respiratory symptoms.
c. Adhere to good hand and food hygiene
d. Avoid contact with animals, their excretions or droppings.
Travellers with acute respiratory symptoms (fever, shortness of breath, cough or sore throat) within 14 days of visiting Wuhan are advised to contact their doctor and indicate their travel history to Wuhan and contact the Infectious Disease Prevention and Control Unit on 21324086.
In addition, due to the currently high activity of the seasonal influenza epidemic in China, travellers should receive seasonal influenza vaccination at least two weeks prior to travel to prevent severe disease.
No travel restrictions have been recommended as yet.