Masks are no longer mandatory indoors yet many people in Valletta on Monday morning were still holding on to their face covering preferring to err on the side of caution because “COVID is still with us”.

“Better safe than sorry,” 85-year-old Pawlu Fenech said as he stood outside his Valletta shop, his mask lowered below his chin while he sipped his coffee. He echoed the thoughts of many - young and old - who said they would still wear the mask indoors.

“I’m still scared,” said Rita Micallef, 61, as she stepped out of a shoe shop wearing a mask. Wayne Pace, 45, said he would gauge the situation and remove his mask if he entered a place that was not crowded, but wears it if he felt there were too many people.

A group of 15-year-old friends - Amy Bugeja, Dosithee Attard and Andreas Cuschieri - who sat waiting for the bus also planned to wear their masks once they boarded it. “It’s too enclosed… I will wear the mask to ensure I don’t get sick,” Andreas said.

Last month Health Minister Chris Fearne announced that as of May 2, face masks would no longer be mandatory anywhere except on flights, in hospitals and in care homes. The rule around wearing masks in shops and busses and other public spaces had been in place since May 2020.

First day without masks. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

After having to wear masks indoors for over two years, one would have thought that the day they could be removed would inspire mask-flinging freedom ceremonies. But the situation was different - at least in Valletta where nothing much changed compared to last week.

The buzzing capital was filled with locals and tourists that packed the outdoor cafes and swarmed through the streets. 

Several wore their masks below their chins or around their wrist and slid them over their mouth once they stepped indoors. Inside the shops, most people had masks on.

'You can do as you wish'

While on social media some hailed the removal of masks as a return to normality, in shops across the island several staff members and customers kept their masks on.

But some chose not to wear face coverings.

“Do I need to wear a mask?” one customer asked an employee in a small Naxxar grocery store upon noticing that the mask-wearing sign was still affixed to the door.

“You can do as you wish,” the maskless employee said as he glanced at his colleagues who were all wearing their masks.

In fact, many shops retained the sign asking customers to wear masks.

Meanwhile, make-up store Lucy took advantage of the situation with a campaign titled Masks off, Lipstick on.

The removal of masks comes with the lifting of other measures: passengers are no longer required to fill in the locator form when travelling to Malta and restrictions on mass events like weddings and all other social activities have also been lifted.

In a Facebook post, San Andrea School announced that the school could finally have a school assembly due to the lifted restrictions on mass gatherings.

“After two years of restrictions, barriers and boundaries, we are finally back with having whole school assemblies for all our students in early, middle and senior school. It is so good to see our students all together once again,” the post read.   

In other schools, the removal of this restriction resulted in their removing school bubbles, allowing children to mingle with friends from other classes.

Meanwhile, the Malta International Airport welcomed the removal of the requirement to wear face masks indoors and the requirement to fill in a passenger locator form as positive steps in the right direction.

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