The Malta Independent 24 January 2022, Monday

Mask wearing rules to ease; two-metre distancing in restaurants to be removed

Shona Berger Thursday, 13 January 2022, 12:46 Last update: about 10 days ago

As of Monday, people who have taken the Covid-19 booster shot will no longer need to wear masks in public as long as they are not in groups of more than two people, Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne has said.

He added that mask wearing remains recommended and said that this measure is being lifted because 70% of the Maltese population will be vaccinated with the Covid-19 booster vaccine by the end of this week.

Speaking on Thursday, Fearne announced some changes to the Covid-19 restrictions.

From Monday, he said that spectators will also again be allowed at sporting events as long as they have a valid vaccination certificate.

Mass events will have to remain seated for now, and the 1am closing time for establishments remains in force.

Since restaurants will now only be accepting vaccinated people, they can do away with the two-metre rule and operate at full capacity, according to the license they possess, he said.

The health authorities will be publishing a full list of the venues where a vaccine certificate will be required to enter later today, Fearne said. 

Employees working within the venues on the list and who have direct contact with clients will also be required to prove their vaccine status. However, as of yet, there are no plans to make this obligatory or to introduce mandatory Covid-19 vaccination, he said. 

Employees who have direct contact will be given until February 1 to get vaccinated against Covid. 

Fearne added that these measures can continue being relaxed once the number of people who receive the Covid-19 booster vaccine has increased. 

Meanwhile, Fearne also gave an outline of a number of categories who are exempted from a number of Covid restrictions.

People who have been abroad and who have not had the opportunity to receive the booster will given a grace period until the February 1 to come to Malta without a third dose, whilst after February 1, the quarantine period will be removed for those people travelling to Malta specifically to receive the Covid-19 booster. 

In addition, staff working in the venues which will be on the list and who do not have direct contact with clients will also be exempted from showing their vaccine status.

Those aged between 12 and 18 years, will not need to show the booster vaccine certificate. Children under the age of 12 and pregnant women who are in their first trimester and test positive, thus were not able to take the booster vaccine, are also exempted. 

Fearne also said that people who could not receive the vaccine for medical reasons, such as anaphylaxis, will be allowed to enter such establishments without the vaccine certifiicate as long as the person gets a certificate from their doctor and from the Superintendent of Public Health.

People who recently tested positive for Covid-19 and who cannot take the booster for now will also be exempted. As a method of proof, these people will make use of the Covid-19 application, Fearne said. 

He highlighted that Malta isn’t the only country to put these measures into force, saying that Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Austria, Denmark, Ireland and Estonia have also put similar measures into place. 

Countries like the Netherlands have not put similar measures into place as instead they have had to go into lockdown and shut down a number of establishments. 

“We do not want this from happening. As long as people get vaccinated with the booster there will not be a need to take such drastic measures,” he said.

Fearne referred to a statement published by the World Health Organisation’s regional director Hans Kluge, who warned that some EU countries are still yet to experience the worst of the pandemic.

The WHO expects that half of the people residing within the EU will have the Covid-19 virus.

Asked by The Malta Independent on whether the health authorities are concerned with such a statement and whether Malta’s hospital system is equipped enough to handle this Covid-19 wave, Fearne insisted that “the Covid-19 booster is the solution.”

“Although 70% of the population will have received the third vaccine jab, we need to keep a close eye on the situation on our community, and the population needs to remain cautious and responsible,” Fearne.

Speaking about those people who died whilst positive with the Covid-19 virus, Superintended of Public Health Charmaine Gauci said that the overall majority had underlying health conditions.

However, some had not received the vaccine, some had both and there were also some who had the Covid-19 booster. Despite this, it was said that without the vaccine the number of deaths would be much higher.

Asked on whether the health authorities are considering revising the current quarantine rules if herd immunity in the community increase, Fearne said that “now is not the time to do that.”

With regard to whether the recovery pass is only applicable to those who tested positive through a PCR test and not for those who tested positive through a rapid test, Gauci explained that the recovery certificate is only issued by the EUDCC and according to EU rules, as of yet, a person who tested positive through a rapid test is not eligible for a recovery certificate.

However, these people will still be able to enter the establishments by showing their PCR or rapid test upon entry. The important thing is that whoever is responsible for checking these tests, ensures that the test is not older than six weeks, Gauci said.

Fearne noted that the active Covid-19 cases in Malta are of the Omicron variant, as “nine out of the ten cases in Malta are of this variant,” he said.

He once again appealed to the general public and urged everyone to get the Covid-10 booster, saying that “science is not a popularity contest.”

“The booster side effects are minimal and whoever thinks that the side effects are worse than the virus is wrong,” Fearne said.

 

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