Tomorrow, you’ll officially be able to eat at a restaurant, get a haircut, or get your nails done in Malta again. So with that reasoning, the situation right now should be way better than when the authorities had closed all these businesses (and more), right? Well, let’s dive in and have a detailed look.
Economic concerns after weeks of complete shutdown have forced the government to move on from the containment of the virus to its management. Now, with most of the island’s emergency healthcare resources still thankfully waiting to be used, Malta seems set to kick off a new phase in its COVID-19 saga. But how do today and tomorrow compare to other milestone days in the last three and a half months?
On Monday 16th March, Prime Minister Robert Abela announced the closure of all bars, restaurants, gyms, casinos, cinemas and bingo halls. The changes came into effect the following day, a total of 10 days after Malta recorded its first ever case of COVID-19.
On that day, Malta had confirmed its first three locally-transmitted cases of COVID-19. There were nine new cases that day, bringing the country’s grand total active cases to 30.
Less than one week later, on Sunday 22nd March, Health Minister Chris Fearne announced the closure of all non-essential retail stores and services, also going on to ban all public activities. This meant that, as of the following day, stores selling clothing items, electronics, household goods and toys, as well as hairdressers, beauticians and tattoo parlours would not be allowed to open. Fines of €3,000 were introduced for anyone breaking these regulations.
On that day, Malta confirmed 17 new cases, over half of which were still travel-related. The total number of COVID-19 patients then was 90. By this point, no one had yet died of the disease.
Last Monday (18th May), Prime Minister Robert Abela announced in a two-hour press conference that Malta’s restaurants, hair salons and beauticians – along with beachside lidos, nail technicians and każini – will be allowed to reopen this Friday (tomorrow), subject to a number of restrictions.
“As of Friday, we will start returning to normality, which is what most people want,” Abela said in a press conference.
On that day, after five new cases, Malta’s total active COVID-19 cases stood at 96. Three days later and with just over 12 hours to go until the reopenings, that number is now 125.
That means that, on the eve of the country reopening most of its non-essential establishments, Malta has more than four times the number of active COVID-19 cases than when these establishments were forced to close.
Of course, a lot has happened since 16th March, so let’s now look at the bigger picture, the other statistics surrounding that day and today… and some of the highlights of what happened in between.
In a time dominated by talks of curves, graphs and waves, Malta has so far recorded its peak of active cases in mid-April, just over a month ago.
On the 15th of April, Malta’s active COVID-19 cases hit 352, the absolute highest they’ve been so far. The number had risen to 351 a couple of days before, only to fluctuate with a bulk of perfectly-timed Easter weekend recoveries before budging back up.
From the 17th of April onwards, however, a downward trend saw a constant decrease in cases, going from 352 all the way down to a mere 58 by Sunday 10th May.
The rate of decrease was so significant, in fact, that after three straight weeks of relatively “good” news, many non-essential shops were allowed to reopen on Monday 3rd May. After all, perfectly timed with May Day, our cases had just dropped back to the double digits again for the first time in 40 days, going from 110 to 81 in a couple of days.
Then, just like that, the decrease stopped, and numbers started going up again… every single day up till today.
In the first week, between 10th and 17th May, Malta’s active COVID-19 cases went from 58 to 93. Four days later, that number now stands at 125. The last time Malta had triple digit cases was 21 days ago.
And while renowned statisticians, public health specialists and even our very own frontliners have warned against a second wave – with many now agreeing Malta is very much in the midst of one already – Prime Minister Robert Abela has rubbished these claims, famously saying “waves are in the sea”.
But what else has happened since then?
Quite a lot actually… and most of it has been downright impressive.
Of the 599 total cases that have so far been confirmed in Malta over the course of three and a half months, 468 have recovered.
Six people have died, with the latest being beloved 53-year-old heart specialist Aaron Casha, who passed away last week.
In the 75 days since COVID-19 hit Malta’s shores, 56,224 swab tests have been carried out. The number of daily tests, which had been recently gravitating at about 900, has now been hitting around 1,200, with Saturday 16th May seeing a record 1,727 swab tests.
The importance of testing cannot be overstated; with a virus that’s been seeming increasingly asymptomatic and with an incubation period that could extend over 14 days, you could easily test negative one day then register as positive sometime soon after. In other words, you can never really have enough testing, which is why health authorities have been aiming to constantly increase daily tests… especially now that so many more places will be reopening their doors as of tomorrow.
As it stands, Malta is currently testing just shy of 0.3% of the country’s population on any given day.
“Today, we are in the best situation we’ve been in since the 7th of March, and tomorrow, we’ll be even better than today,” Prime Minister Robert Abela assured the nation on Sunday 17th May as the country recorded 90 active cases and less than 24 hours before announcing the latest loosening of measures and openings of establishments. “And the next day will be even better!”
The next day, five new cases brought the number up to 96.
The next day, 11 new cases brought the number up to 103.
The next day, 15 new cases brought the number up to 113.
The next day, another 15 new cases brought the number up to 125.
The next day is tomorrow.