Listen: If social distancing is crucial, mass events should not have happened

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

It made little sense to hold mass events when social distancing is deemed crucial to keep the Covid-19 pandemic in check, according to statistician Vincent Marmarà.

In an interview with Newsbook.com.mt, Dr Marmarà, an academic at the University of Malta, noted that three clusters – one related to a hotel pool party, one to the Santa Venera feast and one to Paceville – appear to have been largely responsible for the recent spike in Covid-19 cases, accounting for approximately half of the cases in the community.

“The existence of three clusters which all originate from mass events confirms that these should not have taken place. One hopes that once they are curtailed or stopped, Malta’s R number does not keep rising,” he maintained.

R number reaches 1.39

R number stands for reproduction number, and is a key measure of how fast an infection may be spreading. The R number indicates, on average, the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to.

An R number of 1 would mean that the infection is kept in check, and a lower number would indicate that it is petering out, since the number of new cases would steadily decrease. But a higher number can prove dangerous: as long as it is sustained, the number of active cases can grow exponentially.

At present, Marmarà calculates that the R number in Malta stands at 1.39, a rate not seen since last May. His calculation excludes asylum seekers who have tested positive on arrival and who have been kept in isolation, since it is highly unlikely that they would contribute to the virus spreading in the community.

Spike marks pandemic’s third cycle in Malta

Marmarà argues that so far, the pandemic in Malta has gone through three main cycles, as described below.

  • First phase: sporadic cases that were spreading in the community, but which were not linked to clusters.
  • Second phase: as expected, this followed the initial loosening of restrictions. A cluster linked to a construction site led to an increase in cases in June, but since this was kept under control, the R number did not increase.
  • Third phase: the present situation differs from the first since it largely originates from three large clusters. Though this is a risk, such a situation could be more easily kept under control, but nevertheless, the R number has been rising.

“With nearly half of the cases in the community linked to three clusters, the situation is already different. The restrictions were different and so was the weather. The first cycle had been kept well under control, and we kept the curve flat with a very low mortality rate, and the majority of those who contracted Covid-19 did not have any complications,” Marmarà explained.