Watch: “No reason for alarm” – Fearne following first coronavirus case in Malta

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Additional reporting by Nicole Borg

Malta has registered its first case of Coronavirus (Covid19), sources told this newsroom. The health authorities have confirmed this news during a press conference held this morning.

The patient is a 12-year-old Italian girl, living in Malta, and she is being kept in isolation at Mater Dei Hospital. The parents and their two children who are Italian nationals residing in Malta went on a trip to Italy at the end of February until the beginning of March. The family returned to Malta on Tuesday from Rome, according to the Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne. The family in this case followed the advice given by the Health authorities and have placed themselves in mandatory quarantine.

Two days ago the girl developed symptoms such, a swab test followed and the case was confirmed as a coronavirus one. The family concerned did not go to school or work upon their return.

“Since their return, the family had minimal contact with others. The health authorities are in the process of making a risk assessment in order to carry out a contact tracing exercise,” the Health Minister explained.

“In this case the helpline was used and the health authorities went to the patient’s house to take a swab for further testing,” Minister Fearne said. “This case was contained and the four individuals have been isolated.”

Fearne insisted that the public should not be alarmed by this case as all necessary measures have been taken for it to remain contained and isolated. He insisted that the public should avoid any travels towards high risk countries. He assured that the government has been preparing for such an eventuality and to contain any positive cases in order to limit spread among the community. Dr Fearne also reiterated the health authorities call to avoid non-essential travel towards countries in the hot spot list.

“We’re screening all passengers,” Dr Fearne said.

New helpline launched

An additional helpline was launched on Saturday, the new helpline on coronavirus is 111. 21324086 remains open for the general public. All those who have any queries or can easily call to the helpline and seek help.

111 is a 24/7 line which is operated by medical professionals.

Another person in mandatory quarantine

The Health Minister said that apart from the Italian family in isolation, there was another person who was being kept in mandatory quarantine. He explained that despite the person having tested negative, the person was in contact with another person who had tested positive abroad.

Professor Charmaine Gauci explained that the health authorities have a Warning and Response system where they would keep their European counterparts updated. The person was in close contact with someone from Slovakia who was visiting Italy. The latter had tested positive for the virus. The person was deemed as a high risk contact.

A new hub

The Minister announced that on Tuesday it will be inaugurating a new hub for those who would like to get a swab test. The new testing hub is based on a model which was in use in other countries, Dr Fearne explained. The testing hub will be available for those fearing of contracting the virus and avoid from having members of the public turning up at private clinics or public hospitals.

He went on to explain that there are 18 beds in Mater Dei equipped to contain cases of coronavirus. There are another 18 beds in another building. In the meantime, Fearne confirmed that Boffa Hospital is being fixed up in order to be able to step in in case of a crisis. He explained that this would give Malta another 60 beds.

As of Monday, Malta will also be acquiring another 30,000 masks, Fearne confirmed.

Avoid unnecessary travel

Professor Charmaine Gauci explained that throughout the months they have made sure to raise as much awareness by keeping the media updated. This has led towards immediate identification of the first local case of the virus. She explained that this shows that the message has been delivered effectively to the Maltese citizens.

Her message to the public remained that of avoiding any unnecessary travel towards China, Singapore, Japan, Iran and South Korea, as well as Piedmont, Lombardia, Veneto, Emilia-Romania in Italy. She also encouraged the public to make sure that they stick to self quarantine the second they return from the aforementioned countries. She insisted that it is not the virus itself that is killing people, but chronic illnesses.

Incubation period and screening

Although thermal scanners have been installed at various points of entry, the girl did not have any symptoms in the first few days. Health Minister Fearne explained that the virus is detected once there are symptoms. Fielding questions from journalists present, Dr Fearne explained that the virus has an incubation period before the symptoms develop. He took the opportunity to highlight the importance of self-quarantine once someone returns to the country from hot spots.

Can the virus be transmitted during the incubation period?

The rate of transmission is high once the symptoms are developed, Dr Fearne explained. Dr Chris Barbara said that the infectious dose is highest once the symptoms are developed. He added that in asymptomatic cases, the viral dose would still be at bay before it can be transmitted to another person.

Dr Chris Barbara explained that for one to be infected from the virus, the would need to be in close contact with a person that is infected for around 15 minutes. He explained that the only remote risk would be that of the people who sat close to her on the plane. The professionals were asked whether they are making sure that all those aboard the plane were tested. They replied that all precautionary measures are being taken.

Airlines have protocols in place in case of infectious diseases.

The authorities will carry out a risk assessment despite the patient was asymptomatic at the time of travelling to Malta.

No need to close schools at this point

Asked whether schools should be closed due to this case, Fearne said that so far there’s no need for this to be done. Fearne explained that the committee in charge will be convening on Monday to see what the way forward will be in case there are more coronavirus cases identified later on.

Asked whether the public should go to supermarkets and buy as many products as they can, Fearne insisted that there should be no such alarm. This is because there’s enough supply.

From her end, Celia Falzon, Mater Dei CEO, explained that the public is generally following the protocols that came in.

A press briefing is currently being held at the Ministry for Health and lead by the Minister Chris Fearne. Present at the Ministry are Celia Falzon, Mater Dei Hospital CEO, Prof. Charmaine Gauci, Superintendent for Public Health, Dr Chris Barbara from the the Department for Pathology and Prof. Michael Borg from the Infection Control Unit.

“We will continue offering our assistance to the Government” – Delia

Opposition Leader Adrian Delia said that the Opposition will continue offering its assistance to the government, after the first case of coronavirus infected patient was reported in Malta on Saturday morning.

Speaking during a radio interview on Partit Nazzjonalista’s station, Delia said that the Opposition remains in close contact to the government and the health authorities on the situation. He added that the Opposition did not have enough information to assess whether the government was adequately prepared for a potential outbreak.

Delia urged the public not to panic. He said that it was important that each and every person to proceed in accordance to the advice issued by the health authorities.