The health authorities have continued to carry out random inspections at shops, gyms, bars and salons to ensure COVID-19 mitigation measures are being followed, Times of Malta can confirm.

In the wake of the lifting of the emergency order last Wednesday, many people had assumed that the measures – which include the wearing of masks and use of hand sanitisers – are no longer mandatory.

The rules are regulated by law, a spokesperson for the health ministry said on Friday.

“Inspections to ensure compliance with the conditions for mitigation measures issued under the Public Health Act Chapter 465 are still being performed by Officials of the Environmental Health Directorate,” the spokesperson said.

She acknowledged that some people may be confused but added: “Just because people say there is no longer a need to wear the mask, that doesn’t mean it is the case.”

'We can take legal steps'

A section in the act dedicated to epidemics gives the Superintendent of Public Health the power to “prescribe measures to guard against or control dangerous epidemics”.

On Wednesday, Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci issued a statement with three specific “principles” that need to be followed by everyone – social distancing, wearing of masks and visors and good hygiene practices.

The spokesperson said the statement should be regarded as Gauci was exercising her powers to introduce mitigation measures as outlined in the law.

Asked what steps would be taken if individuals were caught breaching the rules, she said the authorities’ focus was “mainly on education and responsibility”.

“But we can take legal proceedings according to the Public Health Act,” she added.

Confusion among shop owners

Meanwhile, some shop owners told Times of Malta that recently there had been instances when they were asked by plainclothes officials to show what kind of procedures they were implementing to prevent the virus from spreading.

Others confirmed that while they had not been subject to such random checks yet, they had heard about the practice from other shop owners.

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A number complained about confusion over the use of the masks and other mitigation measures, saying they were unsure what they should ask their customers to do.

Some are allowing their customers to enter their shops with no mask while others are insisting that visors or masks must be worn at all times.

One shop owner said: “It’s not clear what we should be doing.

“Some are letting people in and everything seems fine… they’re not getting into any trouble. At the same time, I don’t want my customers to think I’m not following the rules.”

Some customers just refused to wear the masks, saying they were no longer needed.

A shop assistant said customers seemed to believe all the restrictions had been lifted on July 1.

“Customers are confused. We have to keep explaining to them that we should still be following the new protocols, but some keep insisting that is not the case. It’s very frustrating,” she said.

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