The health authorities have decided that the celebration of religious feasts will not be permitted this summer for the second consecutive year due to the COVID pandemic.

The government is due to meet Church authorities to discuss the matter but will insist that, along with other mass events, village feasts are not yet viable in the present situation, sources have told Times of Malta.

Health Minister Chris Fearne last week already hinted this would be the case, even as he unveiled the plan to ease other COVID restrictions gradually over a number of weeks. He had said the government and the Church would be meeting “soon” for talks.

Village feasts are traditionally about a week-long, with crowded and boisterous celebrations culminating over the weekend. Summer is a busy time for festi, drawing both locals and tourists in large numbers.

They were all cancelled last year because of the pandemic although spontaneous activities were held in some localities after the government lifted the restrictions in July as the number of new infections dwindled. 

However, a single case of COVID at the Santa Venera feast, held at the end of July, resulted in one of the largest clusters of cases detected that summer.

This year, the health authorities are being more cautious and will be taking a clear stand on the matter – feasts will not be allowed. The planned meeting with the Church will only serve to formalise that position, sources said.

It is understood that liturgical ceremonies inside churches will be permitted so long as the mitigation measures outlined by the health authorities are followed.

According to the sources, although the infection rate is low and the vaccination process is better than planned, the fact that Malta has not yet reached herd immunity means a single cluster of cases could prove problematic. 

“We need to also keep in mind that it’s not just about controlling infections anymore. We need to also ensure that the vaccination programme is not disrupted and we continue to inoculate at a steady pace,” one source said. 

The decision comes as the government continues to insist that, as things stand, no mass events will be allowed to take place in the summer months. 

Although large-scale party organisers have started selling tickets, the authorities have not yet given permission for parties and festivals to be held. 

While they cannot be stopped from selling the tickets, organisers have not been given the government’s “blessing”, Fearne has said. 

The only large gatherings to be allowed in the coming months are weddings, starting on June 1. Even then, guests must be seated throughout and the number of people attending capped at 100 indoors and 300 outdoors.

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