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Spat On, Shouted At And Harassed: Malta’s Swab Test Workers Are Being Abused Daily

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As Malta battles a second wave of COVID-19, front liners are being pushed to their limits.

Spat on, shouted at and publicly shamed on social media, staff at swab centres spoke to Lovin Malta about daily barrages of abuse from patients.

“It’s not enough to clap for us if you’re going to disrespect us,” a healthcare worker at a Northern swabbing centre said.

Ashley* is a nurse working part-time at a COVID-19 swabbing centre alongside her studies to become a doctor. She works twelve-hour shifts four times a week since Malta registered its first cases in March. Now, she’s feeling burnt-out and bullied.

“I’ve been spat on by a patient I had to turn away because they had no booking,” she recalled. “My colleagues and I are facing foul language and rude attitudes too often – it’s becoming a daily occurrence. People think they can treat you as less because they’re scared.”

Ashley’s colleague, Lisa*, a carer with over 30-years of experience, has also fallen victim to vitriolic attacks. Last week, a patient began hurling abuse at Lisa after she told them to stop recording at the centre.

“She told me she had every right to, but I didn’t feel comfortable being filmed,” she said, adding that just a week before, a nonconsensual video of the carer at work emerged on TikTok. The comments weren’t positive.

And while Malta expands its capacity to detect the virus, human resources have remained the same, meaning front liners are faced with the ever-increasing workload without an end in sight.

“People just don’t understand, they expect miracles. Almost every day we face people who lose their tempers because they want their COVID-19 results or because they can’t through to 111 to book a test.”

“Of course, there are grateful people too, but coming into work and knowing you might face this backlash is demotivating, especially when you’re already over-tired,” a 28-year-old foreign nurse said.

Malta is witnessing its steepest ever spike of COVID-19 cases, and medical unions are warning of dire consequences if the situation doesn’t improve soon.

The Medical Association Of Malta said it’s expecting three to five new COVID-19 admissions into intensive care per day, while staff can only cater to 25 of the 100 ventilators on the islands.

With 80 more cases registered, 63 recoveries and the 53rd virus victim announced today, active cases stand at 1,895.

In response to rising figures, masks were made mandatory outdoors and an 11pm curfew on bars has been announced. However, it hasn’t stopped some from gathering in public spaces after bars close. 

*Names have been changed for the sake of anonymity

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