People who are 65 and over will "soon" start to receive invitations for a second COVID-19 booster shot, deputy prime minister Chris Fearne said on Sunday morning.

Speaking on ONE TV, Fearne said that following the rollout of the second booster for vulnerable people and those who are 80 and over, the government will now offer the fourth dose of the vaccine to all those who are 65 and over. 

"The first booster was already very effective in reducing the spread and keeping the symptoms to a minimum, and even though we experienced a rise in cases, ITU hospitalisations remained at two or three patients at a time," Fearne said.

"The second booster will give an extra dose of protection to whoever feels they need it."

Fearne also announced Malta is among the EU countries pushing for the phasing out of red and dark red-listed countries.

Currently, people arriving in Malta from red-listed countries must present a vaccination certificate, a recovery certificate, or a negative PCR test. Those arriving from dark red-listed countries must be vaccinated and need approval from the Superintendent of Public Health to enter the country.

"Eventually, there will be no more red or dark red countries. It won't matter where you're coming from as long as you have a vaccination certificate, a recovery certificate, or a negative PCR test," Fearne explained, adding that an implementation date for these new measures will be announced in the coming days.

"This would be another milestone in our journey to normality."

Fearne said the country can now truly celebrate the end of the pandemic, and he insisted that aside from being the obvious celebration for workers, Sunday's May 1 celebration should also be "a celebration that marks the end of the pandemic".

The announcements came on the eve of major ease of restrictions, as masks will no longer be mandatory anywhere from Monday except on flights, in hospitals and in care homes.

Earlier this week, public health chief Charmaine Gauci said shops and service providers that wish to ask their customers to keep their face coverings on once the masks mandate is lifted are free to do so.

But restaurant workers, hairdressers, beauticians and others who work close to clients say they are facing “confusion” as to whether they should remove their face coverings, or ask customers to do so.

They argued they might lose customers over whatever decision they take. If they enforce masks they will put off clients who are fed up with wearing them, and if they ditch them, they might lose those who still prefer to socialise more cautiously.

On Sunday morning, Fearne referred to the Times of Malta story, saying that while masks are no longer mandatory, they are not prohibited either, and those who still feel safer wearing them, are free to do so and they would not be doing anything wrong because masks have proven effective, even in reducing the spread of other illnesses, like the flu.

"Businesses will now be free to implement the measures they think are best for their clients and staff," he said.

"If they want to ditch the masks completely, they can. If they want to keep them in case they want to attract the more cautious clientele, they can as well. And if they want to leave everyone to do as they please, they're free to do that as well. Everyone has to take their own responsibility from now on."

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