For nine months, it’s been as essential as your keys, wallet or mobile phone – the face mask.

Mask-wearing has been mandatory in public spaces everywhere since October, with hefty fines slapped on those who break the rules.

But, from today, the requirements are being relaxed slightly, in a decision that could not come soon enough for many sweltering in a record-breaking heatwave.

Here is what you need to know about the new rules.

Can I ditch the face mask completely?

No. Before you jettison your face covering, only those who are fully vaccinated can remove their masks and only under specific circumstances.

With 80% of the population fully inoculated, most people will be able to take advantage of this new rule.

The removal of masks is only allowed when outdoors, meaning anyone entering an indoor public space – be it a shop, restaurant, the post office, a clinic or any similar place – must don a face shield.

And, despite groups of six being permitted in public, those gathering without a mask must stick to staying in pairs.

If two fully vaccinated people are outside together without a mask and a third person walks up, all three must wear the mask, even if they have all been given the COVID-19 jab.

In the case of those who are not vaccinated, the mask must continue to be worn at all times when outside and anyone in their vicinity must also wear one, even if fully vaccinated.

Since June 1, the authorities have also allowed the removal of masks while at the beach – this will remain unchanged.

What about children?

Here is where it gets slightly complicated. The health authorities are currently sending out invitations to those between 12 to 15, meaning they will soon be fully vaccinated and able to remove masks like adults. Until then, they will have to keep wearing it while outdoors.

Under 12s, however, have been given special permission since there is no vaccine approved for them yet. These younger children can remove masks while outdoors with fully vaccinated adults.

Mass events are still banned

And families?

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, group rules for families are different.

A family of five, for instance, will not be split up because of the two-person rule and can all walk around without a mask so long as those eligible for the jab are fully vaccinated.

How will the authorities enforce the changes?

According to the health authorities, officials carrying out inspections on the street are allowed to ask people without a mask to show a copy of their vaccine certificate and ID card to confirm they are fully vaccinated.

Fines will be issued to those caught breaching the rules, as has been the case since the introduction of mandatory mask wearing in October.

Breaking the face mask mandate can land you with a fine of €100, or €50 if you do not contest it.

What are other countries doing?

Malta has been one of the strictest countries in the EU for mask-wearing, even as infection rates plummeted.

The small minority of states with similar rules to Malta have also begun to ease their restrictions.

Last month, Greece, which had identical rules to ours, completely dropped the requirement to wear masks outside.

Italy and Spain have reacted similarly.

Unlike in Malta, the European Union countries easing masks restrictions have not distinguished between those who are vaccinated and those who are not.

Meanwhile, other countries, like Cyprus, for instance, whose rules were also identical to Malta’s, continue to enforce mask-wearing both indoors and outdoors.

Portugal is also yet to remove mandatory mask-wearing.

During a briefing recently, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official urged vaccinated people to keep wearing masks in light of the rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

What other rules are still in force in Malta?

While many rules have been lifted recently, there are several that are still in place.

Groups larger than six are still not allowed to gather in public while gatherings in private residences are still capped at four households.

And when eating out, tables must not seat more than six people, unless they come from the same household.

Mass events are also still banned, although from July 5 controlled and seated events capped at 100 fully vaccinated people will be allowed to take place.

The number of people allowed is set to double over a period of four weeks.

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