329 new Covid-19 cases found, 5 new deaths; Charmaine Gauci delivers weekly Covid-19 briefing

329 new cases were found over the past 24 hours, bringing the number of active cases up to 3,188 and the total number of cases so far up to 25,969, as Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci addressed her weekly briefing on Friday.

Five more patients have died, for a total death toll of 346.

Two males aged 73 and 38, and an 85-year-old woman died at Mater Dei Hospital.

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A 62-year-old man and a 47-year-old woman died at their homes.

259 patients have recovered. 22,435 people have recovered since the start of the pandemic.

3,779 swab tests were performed over the past day, for a total of 746,422 so far.

Until Thursday, 113,258 doses of the vaccine had been administered, of which 37,182 were second doses.

Vaccination drive

Gauci said that the vaccination process is moving at a good pace. The process started with frontliners, the elderly and vulnerable people, before then moving on to younger age groups and non-clinical frontliners.

Gauci said that anyone aged over 80 who is yet to receive the vaccine is urged to call health authorities. Meanwhile, she said that teople over the age of 60 are currently being vaccinated and that there is no need for them to call the authorities as they will be receiving their vaccination letter in due course.

The vaccination of vulnerable people is still ongoing, she said before adding that new vaccination centres have been opened in Paola at MCAST and Rabat, Gozo. Malta still has the highest vaccination rate in the EU, she said.

She also noted that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has now been approved by the European Medicines Agency and the vaccination process will be sped up even further once the first batch of this vaccine arrives.

Situation in hospitals

Gauci said there are 29 patients at Mater Dei’s Intensive Therapy Units, 10 at the Infectious Diseases Unit and 100 patients in other wards. There are 17 Covid-19 patients at the Gozo General Hospital, including five in intensive care.

There are also 14 patients at Boffa Hospital, 23 at St Thomas Hospital, 6 at Karin Grech, 31 at the Good Samaritan Facility and 15 at Mount Carmel Hospital.

This is a “substantial” number, Gauci said, adding that this is why new measures were recently introduced. “A greater number of cases in the community will be reflected at the hospitals,” she said.

While Friday’s numbers are lower than this week’s peak of 510 cases, the 7-day moving average is of around 300 cases, which is still “very high,” Gauci said.  

Most cases were related to social gatherings, but workplaces, schools and sports also contributed to the new cases.

In terms of Mortality rate, Gauci noted that the highest cohort of deaths was in the 80-84, with 49 males and 24 females succumbing to the virus.

The average age of death continued to decline, as it now stands at 68.3 years as opposed to 70.5 years in the previous week and 73.1 in the week before that. Gauci noted that this is due to the vaccination program.

Two cases were recorded as coming from abroad in the past week, one from Poland and one from Spain. 

26,281 people have also booked their test online through covidtest.gov.mt, Gauci noted, while the number of downloads of the Covid-19 Alert Malta app stood at 95,885.  

Gauci noted that although the vaccination program is doing well, the virus variant is spreading “very quickly”, which meant that authorities needed to introduce the new measures. 

“People now need to be more responsible and follow the measures. From our side we are doing the best we can, so every person should follow these measures so as to mitigate the spread of the virus,” Gauci said. 

Asked whether the UK variant is more lethal than the original strain of Covid-19, after studies published interenationally suggested as much, Gauci said that there is still analysis into this ongoing.

Regarding AstraZeneca batches which were called back in a number of countries – batches of which Malta also received – Gauci said that those vaccines have been given out already, but they are monitoring the situation. As of yet, there has been no reason for alarm. “We had no serious events reported.”

Regarding Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was recommended for approval by EU regulators on Thursday, the Health Supernintendent said that they still have to receive a date as to when the first batch will arrive. 

Gauci noted that in order for Malta to arrive at the point of there being very few cases, people have to follow the measures which have been implemented, otherwise the numbers will stay high.

Asked about the situation in Mater Dei, the Health Superintendent said that the health authorities always made sure that there is enough space in hospitals and that they are all equipped with the machines which are needed. 

Regarding the r-factor, Gauci noted that it currently stands at around 1.5. 

Gauci acknowledged that a number of non-essential surgeries were postponed to make way for more Covid-19 patients, with staff who would have otherwised been engaged in such surgeries directed to treating said patients. However, she said, they are seeing if they can get help from the private sector to continue these surgeries. 

Asked by this newsroom whether they are working to beef up the contact tracing team, especially after the 145 helpline could not be reached by various people, Gauci noted that the contact tracing team was inundated with calls since it was introduced. “Some would phone asking why they have not yet received their invitations, even though we are sending out the invitations in batches,” Gauci noted.

“We are in the phase of beefing up this helpline so that we can reach this demand. The 111 helpline has also been beefed up.” 

The press conference was livestreamed below.

329 new covid 19 cases found 5 new deaths charmaine gauci delivers weekly covid 19 briefing - 329 new Covid-19 cases found, 5 new deaths; Charmaine Gauci delivers weekly Covid-19 briefing

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