Imagine living in an overcrowded and enclosed space knowing that the COVID-19 coronavirus could be a few metres away from you. It’s the everyday reality of residents at the Ħal Far Open Centre, who are growing more and more terrified of contracting the virus.
“I’m terrified of catching it. I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m losing my mind,” one resident told Lovin Malta.
There have been 26 confirmed patients within the Ħal Far Open Centre so far, most of whom were only uncovered after random testing. The centre has been placed in quarantine, but basic preventative measures imposed on the public are failing to be followed within its walls.
Authorities have played down concerns of a potentially catastrophic outbreak in the centre, with Superintendent for Public Health Charmaine Gauci hoping that the “young and strong” population won’t get major complications.
Photos taken today show how large groups of people still occupy the centre’s very limited public spaces.
A leaflet has been handed out to residents detailing basic social distancing measures. However, with over 1,000 people living in close proximity, they are simply impossible to follow.
“We are still sharing everything. How can I keep two metres apart from someone when we are eight of us in a container?” he asked.
Lovin Malta previously detailed similar issues a week ago, when there were just eight cases.
Communal bathrooms, which are used by the entire population, are in an abysmal state with moss and seemingly entire ecosystems forming. Going to wash could be all it takes to contract the virus.
“We’ve been told not to use the bathroom at the same time. But how is that possible when there are tonnes of us using the same one?” he said.
“We know that the measures aren’t to help us. Look outside, why is there the army instead of the police?” he continued.
Supplies of food and drink are running low. Residents, who usually purchase most of their food and drink through their personal incomes, are relying on the state to provide it to them. Unfortunately, these supplies are often minimal.
“I thank the government for giving us the supplies, but everything I had is finished, and they don’t let us get anything in. We have nothing to cook with, and we’re given a few supplies. I will pay extra if they want me to,” he explained.
Masks are far and few between. Most of the residents who acquired them did so before the quarantine measures.
Authorities have reportedly set up a WIFI spot to help residents communicate with the outside world and keep themselves occupied. However, it doesn’t cover a wide range, and now groups have started to gather in their droves to connect to the internet.
“Malta has made it clear that we can’t be more than three persons in public. Then why are we 1,000 people in a distance of less than 5,000 square metres and eight persons in a single container?” he continued.
The number of cases inside the open centre stands at 26. However, this figure threatens to grow exponentially if the situation is not addressed.
One question remains: how different would the state’s response be if 26 people within a single Sliema apartment block had contracted COVID-19?
Residents inside the open centres are not illegal immigrants. Each resident has been granted some form of asylum status after months being processed in the Ħal Safi detention centres.