Restrictions for mass events will be eased as of next week as Malta’s COVID-19 situation continues to progress well, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Friday.

The changes will make it easier for families with young children to attend events and also make events more feasible to organisers, with maximum capacities increased.  

Malta will also be adapting its travel rules and recognising vaccine documentation from an added four countries, the minister said.

"The COVID-19 situation is under control, as currently we have 11 people receiving treatment for the virus in hospital, and one person in ITU. With this in mind, the country is in a position to further reduce restrictions,” Fearne said.

He added that there are no COVID-19 clusters in schools, though when questioned further he acknowledged that isolated cases in schools had been detected. 

Malta registered 25 new COVID-19 cases on Friday.

Mass events in Malta are currently restricted to vaccinated attendees, with children under 12 requiring a negative PCR test to be allowed in. They must also restrict seating to a maximum of six people per table. 

Those rules are now being changed, with the changes also applicable to weddings that restrict entry to fully vaccinated attendees.  

Among the changes announced:

  • Maximum number of people at event tables to be increased to eight (from six);
  • Seated events can increase their maximum capacity to 300 people;
  • Children under 12 will no longer need a negative test result to attend events;
  • Eased restrictions for events only open to vaccinated people;
  • Changes to criteria for travel rules which should lead to eased restrictions for some South American countries but increased restrictions for some Eastern European ones;
  • Vaccine certification from Armenia, Moldova, South Korea and Iraq to be recognised;
  • Buses and ferries to be allowed to operate at 80 per cent capacity (up from 65 per cent).

The changes will come into effect as of Monday, October 18. 

Restaurants and bars were allowed to restrict entry to fully vaccinated people as of last week, although lobby groups have said that just a handful have chosen to do so.

Such establishments can operate to more relaxed social distancing rules than others. Those relaxed rules will now be extended to other events that restrict access to vaccinated people.

Tables will be allowed to be placed at one metre apart if outdoors and 1.5m if indoors.

Test results from pilot event expected next week

Fearne also mentioned that the results of a comedy show which was organised without any COVID-19 restrictions are expected to be published next week.

“We will be analysing them so that we start to consider the removal of restrictions before the Christmas period.”

The event was organised in collaboration with the Malta Entertainment Industry and Arts Association, which saw 300 vaccinated people with no masking or social distance rules attend the event on October 8.

Mu variant moves down the priority list

A virus variant known as Mu has been downgraded by global health authorities and is now classified as a variant of interest, rather than one of concern. 

As a result, Maltese authorities will no longer factor the variant's presence into calculations about how countries should be classified by Malta for travel purposes.

The Mu variant is predominant in South and Central American countries, and the change is likely to be mean that restrictions for such countries will end up being eased. 

On the other hand, virus cases are rising in some east European countries and Fearne warned that some countries from that part of the world that are currently classified as 'red' could end up on the 'dark red' list.

Influenza jabs to start October 25

Vaccines against influenza will start being administered at health centres as of October 25, Fearne said. 

For the first three weeks, influenza vaccination will only be available to people aged over 55 years, those with chronic medical illness and children under the age of 12. 

Weekends will be reserved for children to take the flu vaccine, "so as not to distract them from school," the minister said. 

The vaccine will then be made available to the general population on a voluntary basis. 

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