Video: Miguela Xuereb
The best part of our job is when people show gratitude towards our work, Malta Environmental Health Officers Association president Tony Sammut told Newsbook.com.mt in an interview.
Sammut works as an Environmental Health Inspector and during the interview he explained his work and how this has changed since the coronavirus outbreak in Malta.
Malta has registered 458 coronavirus cases since the 7th March when the first case was reported. Four individuals have lost their lives while 303 have successfully recovered. The authorities are currently evaluating plans to start easing off restrictions that were put into place in order to curb the spread of the virus within the community.
Newsbook.com.mt spoke to Sammut who heads the MEHOA, an association reconstituted in August 2018 aimed at promoting the work of environmental health officers and providing training to its members.
Environmental health officers usually carry out inspections on restaurants, investigate complaints, investigate cases of food poisoning, monitor the quality of sea water and inspect imported food as well as carry out consultations with new businesses to ensure that they are in line with the public health requirements. The environmental health officers also have a burial section, which inspects both privately-owned and government-owned cemeteries.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, the environmental health officers have had, along with other competent authorities, to focus on containing the spread of the virus within the community. Various measures were taken to this end – the imposing of mandatory quarantine on those who returned from abroad, a ban on public gatherings of over than three individuals who were not from the same household, and the closure of shops offering non-essential services, among others.
Sammut explained that the environmental health officers who are employed within the Environmental Health Directorate and fall under the responsibility of the Public Health Department have been involved in the inspections carried out on a daily basis to ensure that individuals are following quarantine and that businesses are adhering to the latest legal notices.
When the Superintendence of Public Health declared a public health emergency, it was granted further powers and environmental health officers are now enforcing the Public Health Act.
There are currently seven teams working on the frontline and they are composed of environmental health officers, Civil Protection Department officers and the Police. Six teams are in Malta divided into north, south, east, west, central and north-east, while there is a team in Gozo, Sammut explained. Over 14,000 inspections have been carried out since the 13th March.
As a team leader, Sammut briefs his team in the morning before they set out to conduct the inspections. Wearing protective gear according to the risk they are exposed to, environmental health officers check on individuals who are under quarantine and ensure that establishments are adhering to the Public Health Act. They also investigate complaints. They start early morning and finish late at night, Sammut remarked.
Asked whether the public was cooperating, Sammut noted that many have understood how serious the situation was and have abided to the regulations and are adapting to the new reality. “Unfortunately, you do find that certain individuals do not abide by the rules, and then we would have to issue fines,” he said.
Like doctors and nurses, some environmental health inspectors have had to move out from their family home, Sammut explained. This was done in order to protect vulnerable family members.
Sammut highlighted that environmental health officers enjoy feeling appreciated for their work. This usually comes in a form of a “thank you” whenever they inspect someone who is under mandatory quarantine.
“We have a list of residences to visit. When we go there, we ensure that all those listed are at home. We ask them if they need anything or have developed any symptoms,” Sammut said describing a typical inspection. He added that when people show gratitude towards their work it meant a lot for them.” They tell us to take care of ourselves and to stay safe. This means a lot to us. That our work is being appreciated and that they are looking out for us,” Sammut remarked.
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