March 2020 – the month which changed our lives and tested our health services
On 31 March we ended the month which turned out lives upside down, with the greatest test being on our health services.
The health authorities had been preparing for COVID-19 since the cases began increasing outside of Malta. From the very first case, over the last 25 days ago, a number of measures were introduced with the aim of slowing down the spread of the virus in our country.
The first case was confirmed on 7 March: an Italian girl, 12 years old, who lives in Malta. On that day the helpline 111 was activated for the public to phone for information about the Coronavirus.
During March the authorities also began implementing a number of measures – which were always part of a contingency plan in preparation for any pandemic which may break out.
Every space possible at Mater Dei – from the library to lecture halls – have been changed into wards for Covid-19 patients. The health authorities have even planned for 700 more beds, with more than 100 of them at the ITU. And from one emergency ward, there are now two – with one of them dedicated entirely to Coronavirus patients.
Three swab centres: Ħal Farruġ, Luxol Grounds and Pembroke were opened as well as one at the helipad terminal in Xewkija, Gozo. The swabs are also being taken at Mater Dei and at health centres. To date the number of tests has reached almost 7000 (6,934).
Mater Dei is operating the second laboratory for Covid-19 tests. Non-urgent operations and outpatients appointments have been cancelled so that all human resources can be dedicated to this emergency. At Gozo General Hospital there will be 123 beds for Covid-19 patients, 13 of which will be at the ITU.
The visits to the elderly who live in residential home (whether state, church or privately-owned) have been stopped. There are no visits allowed to the residential homes of people with a disability either.
This month health restrictions were also introduced for Mater Dei visitors, with shorter visiting hours of just one hour between 5pm – 6pm.
For Covid-19 patients, Mater Dei, Boffa hospital, Gozo General hospital and the private hospital St Thomas, are being used.
Right now an evaluation is being carried out of the tender bids for a prefabricated hospital, which will include an ITU and which is being planned to be built within the complex of Mater Dei.