Five months since Malta recorded its first ever case of COVID-19, the country has registered its highest number of active cases yet, after 54 new people were confirmed to have been infected with the virus earlier today after 1,789 swab tests were carried out.
The previous record of active COVID-19 cases at one go had remained unchallenged since 15th April (116 days ago), when the country had 352 cases. Malta got tantalisingly close to this total yesterday when 40 new patients shot the active cases up to 351, but today’s 54 new cases have helped set a new undisputed ruler of the not-so-positive statistic.
On a more positive note, nine new recoveries were confirmed today.
It’s been a week full of record breaking that has only gotten worse over the weekend, with 143 cases being confirmed in the last 72 hours alone. In other worrying milestones, the country exceeded 1,000 total cases of the virus just yesterday.
As of Friday, 15 COVID-19 patients were being treated at various hospitals around the island, with four of them being treated at Mater Dei’s Infectious Diseases Unit and none receiving intensive care. These patients include people who don’t require hospital treatment but are being kept in hospital to prevent them infecting household members.
Malta registered its previous record of active cases amidst the first wave of COVID-19, but by the time the 352 mark was hit, it had been a full month since Prime Minister Robert Abela announced the closure of all bars, restaurants, gyms, casinos, cinemas and bingo halls on 16th March. Nine new cases had been registered that day, including the island’s first ever locally-transmitted cases. The total active cases back then stood at 30… less than a tenth of what they are today.
Six days later, on Sunday 22nd March, Health Minister Chris Fearne had announced the closure of all non-essential retail stores and services, also going on to ban all public activities. By then, the total active cases had gone up to 90… less than a third of what they are today.
Despite all this, Prime Minister Robert Abela has been very vocally against repeating the same amount of restrictive measures as before.
“We’ve just passed through months that I hope no one has to pass through again,” Abela told a Labour Party general conference on 26th July. On that day, Malta had confirmed 14 new cases – nearly a fourth of what the country has registered daily for the last two consecutive days – but Abela had said some people were “sowing doubt and fear” over the number of cases, motivated by a desire to harm the government by damaging the economy.
“You have no chance,” he said. “We reopened and we will remain open.”
Back on 17th May, Abela had also famously gone on record to make a snide remark about anyone hinting at a potential second wave of the virus which as of yet has no cure, saying “waves are in the sea”.
Just this week, the Prime Minister seemed to double down on his months-old comment, telling a NET News reporter that “today is a sunny day and we don’t even have one wave”. By then, Malta had registered an increase of over 6,000% from its lowest ever active cases count, three patients, which had been mere weeks before. Today, that increase is up to around 12,000%.
While Maltese authorities’ reaction to this latest explosion in cases has not mirrored last March’s much more restrictive measures, a number of regulations were still rolled out this week.
On the last day of July, as most of the parties around Malta continued to be cancelled amidst news of a developing virus cluster at a pool party, Health Minister Chris Fearne announced fresh limits on events, limiting the number of people who can attend depending on the size of the venue and obliging event organisers to gather the contact details of attendees.
Earlier this week, the Medical Association of Malta kicked off an industrial action to protest what they felt was still-inadequate enforcement of strict regulations to combat the surge of cases. Following a rigorous eight-hour marathon of discussions with health authorities on Thursday night, however, a number of new measures were introduced.
On Friday morning, the fresh restrictive measures were announced, including €100 fines for people who are caught not wearing the already-mandatory masks in public enclosed spaces like public transport, stores, the airport and the Gozo Channel ferry. These fines are reduced to €50 if people admit to their offence and pay the fine before the case reaches court.
Hours later, Prime Minister Robert Abela and Health Minister Chris Fearne announced even more measures, including a 100-person cap for indoor events and a 300-person cap for outdoor ones. By this point, nearly every single event on the island had already been cancelled, with most party promoters taking it upon themselves to call off or idefinitely postpone their planned summer bashes.
Since most of Malta’s current COVID-19 patients are quite young – the three largest clusters yet have been recorded in Paceville, Santa Venera’s feast and a hotel pool party, with others being identifed in an English language school and even a Holy Communion party – all patients are reportedly in a stable condition… except for an 84-year-old at IDU who Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci said is “not in a very good condition”.
Malta’s COVID-19 death count remains nine.