The EU’s disease prevention agency has recommended certain COVID-19 restrictions may be relaxed when fully-vaccinated individuals meet, something Malta’s health authorities have yet to get on board with.  

In a document published recently, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control identified a series of situations where, because of immunity through the vaccine, some restrictive curbs may be eased.  

“When an unvaccinated individual or unvaccinated individuals from the same household or social bubble meet fully-vaccinated individuals, physical distancing and the wearing of face masks can be relaxed if there are no risk factors for severe disease or lower vaccine effectiveness in anyone present (for example: older age, immunosuppression, other underlying conditions),” the ECDC recommended.  

The centre is also proposing that the authorities consider whether a person has been inoculated or not when carrying out contact tracing, though decisions should still be taken on a case-by-case basis.  

Authorities adamant that mask-wearing must continue for a while longer

Quarantine for vaccinated people

And on the quarantine period, which in Malta is currently established at 14 days, the ECDC said this could be “waived or modified for fully-vaccinated individuals as long as there is no or very low-level circulation of immune escape variants in the community in the country of origin, in the case of travellers”. 

Malta is already trialling this with healthcare workers at Mater Dei Hospital. 

Those who are fully-inoculated against the virus and who are in contact with a positive case are allowed to go into isolation for just five days if they test negative for the virus. The quarantine period for those infected remains the same.  

So far, the local authorities have been adamant that mask-wearing must continue for a while longer.

Since October, Malta has imposed the mandatory wearing of face shields in all public places, with fines issued to those caught in breach of this rule.  

On public spaces, large gatherings and travel, the ECDC said mask-wearing should be maintained for now "irrespective of the vaccination status of the individuals".

The ECDC guidance is in line with recommendations made by its US equivalent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Tuesday. The US CDC said that fully vaccinated people could not wear masks when outdoors except for when they gather in large groups. 

Face cover benefits

Public health chief Charmaine Gauci has repeatedly said the benefits of mask-wearing are so great that the authorities will continue to insist on people donning masks.  

Gauci told Times of Malta masks will need to continue being worn during the warmer months, even on the beach, quashing hopes that the face coverings can be discarded as the temperature rises.  

Despite raising the prospect of herd immunity being achieved by June, the health authorities have refused to commit to a timeline on when masks might no longer be mandatory in public.  

Instead, they have said that Malta will be monitoring the situation in countries like Israel, where most of the population has been vaccinated and the use of mask has been abolished as COVID infections continue to plummet. 

The report can be read in full here.

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