Thirty-one days. That’s all it took for Malta’s active COVID-19 cases to go from five to 677. But what happened in the days between then and now?
On Saturday 18th July, Malta found one new case of COVID-19, with active cases going from four to five. The new patient was an imported case who had returned to the country and then started experiencing symptoms. The general feeling among locals was still mostly positive: after all, the island had just gone through a recordbreaking eight-day streak of no new cases, and had only registered another new case the day before. That’s just two cases after over a week of no cases.
A total of 848 swab tests were conducted in the 24 hours leading up to 18th July’s announcement, and the new case had just nudged the absolute total number of people who had ever been infected by COVID-19 in Malta to 675.
By now, it had been exactly one month since Prime Minister Robert Abela famously went on record to make 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”. Meanwhile, Malta’s borders had been open for just over two weeks.
Incidentally, while all of this was happening on the weekend of the 17th, 18th and 19th July, hundreds of young revellers took to a St. Julian’s hotel for a three-day pool party which would soon enough end up making every news headline in the country.
What followed was a mixed bag of mostly “good” statistics… with Malta registering zero to two daily cases.
Both 19th and 20th July had one new COVID-19 case each. The following day resulted in zero cases, and it then went up to two cases the next day. Then back to one. Perhaps reflecting the health authorities’ growing caution, testing steadily increased again, going from the very low 583 on 20th July all the way up to 1,114 just three days later.
Saħħa’s daily Facebook posts had already started getting mixed reactions by now, with some worrying about what could happen in the near future… and others deriding them.
“Now that they are making the feasts again, we will rise again with the cases,” one concerned comment read. “It’s not that the airport is open. Yesterday people were in closed gatherings for a feast. Very worrying. It was supposed that no feasts were going to be held this summer.”
“Clubs are opened for more than a month now and cases did not increase,” another retorted. “Let people live their life and if you’re scared stay inside.”
On Thursday 23rd July, Malta registered one new case… a local, sporadic, symptomatic case of someone who had attended the Hotel Takeover party.
Going into the weekend, the island’s active cases stood at six.
“Still very good,” one particularly liked comment read on the day. “No need to start moaning.”
Then, on the weekend of 24th July, the country registered six new infections… and the numbers haven’t stopped going up since.
Just 24 hours after the now-notorious pool party weekend’s first case was discovered, six more cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, all part of the same cluster. By now, the hotel’s entire staff was being tested, with the premises itself cleaned and disinfected.
Everyone who was in the room with the first discovered case was tested and found to be negative, but they were all asked to undergo a 12-day quarantine anyway.
The following day provided some temporary hope with zero new cases, but just 24 hours later, Malta registered 14 new cases, the highest single-day rise since May.
By the end of the weekend, Malta’s active cases had shot up to 26… over four times more than what they had been a mere three days before.
To keep up with the emerging cluster and any other potential sources of infection, daily testing had now solidly hit the triple digits, with 1,220 swabs being carried out between 25th and 26th July.
In the days that followed, most of the planned parties and festivals started being cancelled. Then, by the last day of July, Health Minister Chris Fearne took to the nation’s screens again.
For many people, perspectives practically shifted overnight.
As more and more cases continued emerging from clusters such as the initial Hotel Takeover Party (and later even Paceville and the St. Venera feast), most event promoters and organisers started erring on the side of caution, postponing or flat-out cancelling their planned parties and festivals.
Meanwhile, the cases were still rising on a daily basis.
On 28th July, seven new cases were announced. On 29th July, that number had risen to 12. That same evening, 66 disembarked migrants had tested positive. That particular cohort’s total rose to 85 in the following two days.
After the decision was taken to add the new migrant numbers to the country’s total cases, Malta’s active cases shot all the way up to 150 by the end of July. That’s an increase of 3,650% in 13 days.
In the meantime, testing had continued rising, hitting 1,314 by the end of the month.
On 31st July, 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.
Other restrictive measures included €100 fines for people who were* caught not wearing the already-mandatory masks in public enclosed spaces like public transport, stores, the airport and the Gozo Channel ferry. These fines would however be reduced to €50 if people admitted to their offence and paid 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 by the promoters thtemselves.
And even though multiple new cases were already being confirmed in the latter half of July, August is when shit really hit the fan.
On 1st August, 21 new cases were registered, with similar numbers being found every following day.
Less than a week later, that daily statistic doubled, with 49 new cases being registered on 7th August.
This is around the same time tests also shot up, with a recordbreaking 1,748 swabs being carried out on 31st July which was consistently approached or reached in the days that followed.
By the end of August’s first week, as Malta’s total cases exceeded 1,000, active cases stood at 351. That was just 11 days ago.
In the two weeks that followed, Malta never recorded less than 23 daily cases of COVID-19.
New single-day cases first exceeded 30, then 40, then 50… then more.
By 9th August, Malta had broken its own record of 352 active cases, a record which had remained absolutely unchallenged for 116 days, since 15th April. Every single day since then has seen the nation breaking that record.
On 15th August, Santa Marija brought with it 72 new cases of COVID-19, the country’s highest single-day number yet.
The situation didn’t get much better from there, with 63, 69, 48 and 47 cases being registered in the days that followed.
In fact, Malta has just gone through its worst week yet as far as daily COVID-19 announcements go, with 434 cases being found in the last seven days.
At the time of writing, after a decision earlier last week to remove migrant infections from the national total, Malta has 677 active cases. Looking back, that’s an increase of 13,440% in the last month.
The absolute total number of people who have now been infected stands at 1,470. For context, just 31 days ago, that number stood at 675… less than the current number of active cases right now.
As many people desperately look for someone to blame amidst this current COVID-19 mess (from Malta’s Tourism Minister and health authorities to the organisers behind the island’s parties and their reckless revellers), other arguments were made in favour of the situation not being that bleak.
The most popular counter-argument to people worrying about the current number of COVID-19 cases – an argument that has even been made by Prime Minister Abela on multiple occasions including just last weekend – is that the country is only registering such high numbers because we’re testing many more people on a daily basis.
Of course, there’s no denying that testing has increased.
With added swabbing centres around the island and more people assigned to the processing labs, a nationwide increase in logistical power has just been put into effect… and the numbers prove that. Just last month, 848 swabs were conducted. Today, that number stood at 2,261, and that figure is by far not an outlier. Every single day in the last eight saw more than 2,000 tests being conducted, with all of August seeing more than at least 1,500 swabs on a daily basis.
Having said that, the rise between 848 tests – or even 800 – and 2,200 is 175%. In comparison, as a reminder, the rise between four active cases and 677 is over 13,440%. Clearly, the figures just don’t match up.
“The number of swab tests is a lot higher than that of a few months ago, so that does account somewhat for the increase in cases,” one comment reiterated earlier this week. “But it is clear that community transmission is also increasing. Till now this has not resulted in many severe cases, but if more elderly and vulnerable people start becoming infected, then we could have a big problem on our hands. All this could have been avoided if mass events were never allowed and if clubs did not open.”
Meanwhile, of course, recoveries have also started going up, as some of the current spike’s earliest cases recover. This time last month, total recoveries stood at 662. At the time of writing, that number is 784, meaning 122 people have recovered in the last 31 days. Still, that’s 122 new recoveries to 663 new infections.
So what does it all look like on a graph?
Well, whichever way you look at it, it’s not looking too good.
The initial wave of cases registered when the virus first hit Malta back in March pales in comparison to this current spike, and even the rate with which the total number of cases has climbed in the last six months has very clearly shot up in the last couple of weeks.
The offiicial statistics are grim enough, but when you plot them on a graph, you can really see the big picture… and it’s not pretty.
With Malta’s fresh restrictive measures rolling out as of this morning, many have been filled with newfound hope that the island can turn the tide… while others have found themselves having to face the reality that maybe, everything isn’t business as usual anymore.
From closing the country’s nightclubs and discos and calling off all boat parties to adding a 15-person gap on all public gatherings, Health Minister Chris Fearne and Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci announced a number of measures two days ago which officially came into effect this morning.
Other measures include the mandatory wearing of masks in all closed public spaces and the introduction of a weekly ‘Amber Travel List’… which right now consists of Bulgaria, Romania and three Spanish cities (Madrid, Girona and Barcelona).
Whether these measures will truly prove effective in curbing what has become the country’s largest spike of infections yet remains to be seen, but as health authorities have consistently told the nation, it’s up to each and every one of us to help stop the spread of this as-yet-uncurable virus.