1. Preventing transmission
The section on PREVENTING TRANSMISSION includes information on key public health measures that aim to prevent the further spread of the disease. It details how countries are advising the general public and people who (might) have the disease to prevent further spread, as well as measures in place to test and identify cases, trace contacts, and monitor the scale of the outbreak.
1.1 Health communication
On 18th May it was announced that Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci would stop providing live daily COVID-19 updates, due to Malta being in a ‘transition period’ (https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/watch-live-charmaine-gauci-delivers-latest-on-covid-19-in-malta.792863). The briefings will now take place three times per week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, although the number of COVD-19 cases and deaths would continue to be announced daily.
Early on, when cases of COVID-19 were restricted to China and a few neighbouring countries, the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate launched a campaign on mainstream media, social media and in health care facilities related to respiratory etiquette, together with some generic advice for those persons returning from travel in this area.
As cases in Europe started to multiply, health communication channels were significantly upscaled and by mid-February a Ministry for Health dedicated webpage was set up with FAQs which addressed all these topics (www.covid19health.gov.mt). At this point a helpline for the general public manned by public health specialists was established. Further information was uploaded to the website including basic information related to respiratory etiquette, hand hygiene and an invitation for all those who travelled to affected countries and had developed symptoms to contact public health immediately to arrange for a swab test.
A communications team from the central government was asked to support the Ministry for Health with Health Communication early on in the outbreak. A cross-government COVID-19 website (www.covid19malta.info) was created which pools daily information related to health matters, tourism, the economy, employment and the current mitigating measures and incentives that are proposed to support the economy and each sector during this difficult time.
The helpline for the public was reinforced with additional human resources to cater for the increasing number of calls. The aim of this was to provide factual information, combat misinformation and provide advice and reassurance while serving as the entry point by which symptomatic persons can be identified and flagged as requiring a swab test for coronavirus. This service has expanded considerably from the early days and has been outsourced to a company of trained telephone operators, who receive training with respect to content and are supervised by public health specialists. These operators are able to respond to the public’s queries in accordance with a FAQ list which is updated daily with all new measures and developments of the day. Symptomatic cases are still filtered and assessed by public health professionals in order to be able to ensure that the appropriate level of assistance and care is provided according to their history and medical condition. It has been noted that the number of calls increases significantly following a change in the pattern of transmission, for example when local transmission was first detected, or following the announcement of new measures etc.
The FAQs, drafted as early as the end of February and placed on relevant websites (see key links), focussed on appropriate hand washing techniques, cleaning and disinfecting frequently used surfaces, respiratory etiquette and the importance of keeping one’s distance from others in order to decrease the spread of coronavirus.
Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Malta on 7th March 2020, information related to cases diagnosed within the previous 24 hours is conveyed by the Superintendent of Public Health (SPH), through a daily press briefing which is held around lunch time every day. Separate press briefings are also convened on occasion by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Health, usually when new public health measures are going to be introduced or when a significant event has occurred, for example when the first imported case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Malta.
During the daily briefing by the SPH, the total number of new cases diagnosed over the last 24 hours is reported together with some basic non-identifiable information regarding each new affected individual. During this live broadcast a sign language interpreter provides the briefing in sign language for the hearing impaired. Following this press conference, a data dash board is updated daily (see key links).
A daily COVID-19 bulletin is disseminated electronically across the public service providing information in relation to COVID-19, including details regarding the new cases registered and any new measures implemented at a Government level.
COVID-19 data dashboard for Malta: https://infogram.com/1pj5zveyg1mxnkh6d32q1mjek6amp9eqxde?live&fbclid=IwAR1ya_TqqtnXxZLD5AHMFc4CuHrTccAL0lmKgRg5tTDOhQW9p64Dm-YZImk
Government Website: https://covid19malta.info which includes a chatbox COVEE that operates through Facebook messenger
Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/HPDPMalta/
Ministry for Health Website: www.covid19health.gov.mt