Update 16th September 2020
Up to 16th September 2020, 221, 162 nasopharyngeal RT-PCR swab tests have been performed, with the number of daily tests increasing to over 2000 tests daily. Six testing centres are currently operational, including one at Mater Dei Hospital (for health care professionals), with two additional swabbing centres being set up in collaboration with the private sector. All tests are processed by a central laboratory at Mater Dei Hospital.
Laboratory tests for COVID-19 take place in two laboratories in Malta, with Mater Dei Hospital Laboratory serving as the reference laboratory. Testing capacity has increased to enable 500 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 to be performed daily, divided into four laboratory ‘runs’ at present, with the potential to further increase these in the future.
Currently there are three separate drive-through testing areas, in addition to the one dedicated solely for testing of health care professionals. The suspected case definition, which has now been broadened to include any persons with any symptoms known to be found in coronavirus infection, are asked to attend by appointment. There are also provisions for testing persons who do not have their own transport. Initially, this used up a lot of resources when paired doctors in protective personal equipment (PPE) were being driven around to carry out these tests in the home. However, this was consuming significant PPEs and human resources; as a result, the use of ‘dirty’ cabs has been implemented recently where patients are brought to testing centres and cabs are decontaminated after each use.
Within community health centres and acute hospitals, a swab tested for COVID-19 is taken for all those who present with respiratory symptoms. This is also being extended as a pre-operative test for partners of parturient women and prior to emergency surgeries. To date over 10, 000 tests per million inhabitants have been carried out, placing Malta as one of highest rated countries in Europe with respect to the number of tests performed per capita.
Up to 2nd May 2020, 35117 swab tests for SARS-CoV2 have been performed. At a point over the last period a trend was noted whereby persons who were given an appointment for swabbing failed to turn up for their swab test. Although generally around 1000 tests were performed daily for a while, this has slightly declined. Information campaigns and the media were guided to emphasise the importance of turning up for one’s appointment and utilising this resource to its fullest. Another factor that increased the uptake of testing was initiating a new policy to extend testing for asymptomatic persons in large companies on a voluntary basis. This has immediately had positive outcomes whereby a number of asymptomatic cases were identified and contact tracing was extended to their close contacts (https://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/national/101828/health_authorities_worried_about_people_not_turning_up_for_covid19_tests#.XqwrtS2B1QI).
Another factor that may have increased the uptake of nasal swab tests is the new COVID Symptom Checker unveiled on the 30th April 2020. The COVID Symptoms Checker is a new application which can be accessed from any electronic device by inputting https://covid19check.gov.mt. This is a short self-assessment test which asks a number of questions related to one’s symptoms and guides the user to further actions if any are necessary including calling the helpline if any of the inputted symptoms are indicative of COVID. This self-assessment test serves as a tool for syndromic surveillance to enable authorities to correlate the number of cases to the reports of symptoms through this app. It is completely anonymous and requires no name or form of identification to be inputted making this very acceptable to the user (https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/health-minister-invites-people-to-test-covid-19-symptoms-app.788906).
The Maltese Government is looking into the possibility to acquire new technologies such as mobile apps to facilitate contact tracing. Any technology used in this regard would not impinge on civil rights or personal privacy. (https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/covid-19-restrictions-could-be-eased-in-the-coming-days-fearne.787310)