Watch: On Covid-19, ‘a step back’ is required

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Malta already had the measures in place to avoid the spread of Covid-19, and now needed to take a step back and implement them once more, according to the president of the Malta Association of Public Health Medicine Sascha Reiff.

Dr Reiff was answering questions by Fr Joe Borg during Newsbook Hour on 103 Malta’s Heart. The MAPHM brings together health professionals with the specific goal of promoting public health in Malta, though given present circumstances, Reiff explains, its efforts are currently focused entirely on the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the number of active cases in Malta reaching their all-time peak this week, Reiff highlights the obvious: that Malta was not keeping up with the pandemic, in contrast to what appeared to be the situation earlier on.

“We did well in March, because people accepted the advice received and obeyed the measures. You would go out and see few people without facemasks, and no one gathering in masses,” Reiff pointed out. “But now, no one seems to be worried.”

Ultimately, however, the measures that should be in place are nothing extraordinary, according to Reiff.

“This isn’t rocket science. We already were there,” he explains. “We had started to gradually lift measures, and now we need to take a step back,” he explains.

Let us respect each other

This would entail testing arrivals for Covid-19, quarantining those hailing from countries deemed to be high-risk, stop mass events and close clubs and bars. He emphasises that it was not realistic to hold parties and similar social gatherings and expect social distancing requirements to be followed: the concept fails through their very nature. And of course, it is impossible for people to wear masks while eating and drinking.

A common counter-argument to the reintroduction of certain restrictions is economic in nature, but Reiff argues at present, an imbalance has been created by taking the reopening of the economy to an extreme. This has not only backfired, but has also made it difficult to reopen schools in a month’s time. What needs to be done, Reiff adds, is for this imbalance to be corrected.

Asked what he would advise people on a personal level, Reiff urges the public to wear face masks everywhere, whoever they might meet, to wash hands regularly and to keep their distances. People should also avoid patronising venues that fail to respect such provisions.

“We have a lot of volunteers who are working tirelessly, only to find people who do not respect their efforts,” Reiff maintains. “Let us respect each other.”

No normal new year

Reiff also warned that a return to normal is months away at the very least, stating that the new year celebrations one would typically expect were out of the question.

The development of a vaccine is generally seen as a definitive solution, but Reiff warns that the situation was not that clear-cut. In any case, precautions would still need to be followed until one is successfully developed – and produced and distributed around the world, which will itself be a lengthy process.

But Reiff adds that a lot of question marks remain on the vaccine.

“Will you need to take it every three months or every year? Will you need to take booster shots? Or is it something that can be done just once and then it solves all our problems?”

Though it was natural for people to hope that a vaccine will solve the crisis, one needed to remain cautious, he adds. There is still no proof that the vaccine will be developed shortly, or that it will be effective and accessible to all.

Additional Reporting: Liz Cutajar

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