Yesterday’s first coronavirus death recorded in Malta highlighted weaknesses in the government’s response to the spread of the disease. There’s no doubt that Malta cannot alone escape the devastating impact of the pandemic and that people of vulnerable age are at serious risk of being overcome by the disease. There is also no doubt that a 92-year-old patient is by definition extremely vulnerable to the virus and contagion is likely to be fatal.
However, there are specific circumstances to the case that raise important questions. The patient who died yesterday was a resident of Gozo’s only state-run home for the elderly, Dar Sant’Anna, which is on the grounds of the Gozo General Hospital run by Steward Healthcare.
On March 28, during a visit to Gozo by Health Minister Chris Fearne, the government announced that Sant’Anna residents were to be relocated to “a nearby building”. The building in question is believed to be the Downtown Hotel in Rabat which like all other hotels has been shuttered for the duration of the crisis. The relocation would put them at some distance from the hospital and would free up space for an expansion of capacity at Gozo’s only hospital.
But 10 days after that announcement there’s no sign that the relocation has started.
Reports from within the old people’s home suggest that at least four members of staff have been sent home under quarantine after testing positive for the virus. The rest of the staff are now in lockdown with the residents. All residents are extremely vulnerable because of their age and frailty and their relatives are extremely worried about them. They have been unable to meet them for some time as a precaution to prevent the spread of the virus. The precaution proved insufficient.
One of the Sant’Anna residents celebrated her 100th birthday this week.
The response to the pandemic in Gozo has come under heavy criticism by Opposition spokesman Chris Said. The PN MP criticised the government’s PR exposure for the government that, he says, does nothing to reassure Gozitans.
The Gozo shadow minister pointed out there was no clarity about what additional resources have been deployed including ICU beds and ventilators in place or in the pipeline. Chris Said also asked why in-patients that have been tested positive for the coronavirus have not been isolated from other patients.
Chris Said wondered in a Facebook post if Sant’Anna residents are still being relocated to another building now that coronavirus has been detected among its patients and staff. If not, what happens to the promised capacity expansion of Gozo General Hospital that was supposed to use Sant’Anna for 80 additional beds?