Charmaine Gauci, superintendent of public health, has indicated that Malta will enjoy a mask-free summer, though fully removing mask mandates will ultimately depend on the number of new COVID-19 cases and patients in hospital.

Masks are currently still mandatory in indoor public places and on public transport. The change, which Gauci hinted at while answering questions on the Ask Charmaine show hosted by Times of Malta, would mark the first time since the start of the pandemic that masks will not be required indoors. 

“We hope that they can be removed soon, as cases keep going down,” she said.

She explained that Malta had a peak of new cases when the Omicron variant of COVID-19 struck, with a testing positivity rate of 16% in the first week of January. As that went down, the BA2 more transmissible sub-lineage struck and there was a peak of new cases last week with a positivity rate of 21%, but now the positivity rate was back down to 16%.

Standards of self-testing kits – results not in the official tally

Gauci said that in allowing the introduction of COVID-19 self-testing kits in Malta, the authorities had made sure that only the more reliable brands could be imported to Malta.

Self-testing kits can only be sold by pharmacists, who can advise customers on how to use them and what to do in case of a positive result.

In view of those regulations, the authorities will also be able to clamp down on less-reliable kits available on the internet, in the interests of customer safety.

Positive results from COVID-19 self-testing kits will not be included in the official tally of new virus cases, she explained.

As is the case throughout the European Union, COVID-19 is a notifiable disease  - meaning healthcare professionals must report any positive cases they are aware of - but self-testing results can only be included as ‘probable’ because the authorities will not know how such tests were actually done.   

However, people using self-testing kits who return a positive result need to consult their doctor for clinical management and isolation procedures. It was important that such people do not go to work or school.

Meanwhile, the government's swabbing facilities will remain in place, and free of charge. 

131 virus patients in hospital, but 70% not because of COVID

Asked about the number of virus patients in hospital, she said there are currently 131 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19, but 70% had not actually been admitted to hospital because of the virus. Three patients are in intensive care. 

Schools free to decide masks policy

Asked whether schools may decide that students should wear masks, Gauci said the authorities had now lifted mandatory mask-wearing rules for schools but schools and parents could decide that their students or children should continue to wear masks.

“It is up to the schools, as is the case with the school uniforms,” Gauci said.

Last week, Church schools said they were against the lifting of the masks rule, preferring a later date in May.

Charmaine Gauci was interviewed by Claire Farrugia. 

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