Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci insisted on Wednesday that COVID-19 restrictions need to be lifted gradually on the basis of case numbers, the situation at hospital and experience learned abroad.

Questioned on Times of Malta’s Ask Charmaine programme, particularly on the continued use of face masks, Gauci said the authorities are taking a 
paced approach and will continue to lift measures as the case numbers stay down.

It was good news, she said, that some agencies abroad were saying that masks did not need to be worn between fully vaccinated persons, but in Malta, herd immunity had not been achieved yet. A large section of the population has still not been vaccinated. 

“We have to see what is going to happen also in other countries such as Israel (which has lifted the masks requirement). We need to take it step by step because we cannot afford to do things which harm the situation and raise the numbers again as we will then have to go for measures which are worse than wearing masks,” Gauci said.

Questioned on the current situation with regard to virus variants, Gauci said 67% of new cases are from the so-called UK variant and Malta also has ‘a number’ of cases of the South African variant and ‘a few’ Brazilian variant. There were no confirmed cases of the Indian variant.

She said in reply to another question that travel from India is banned and arrivals are allowed only in exceptional cases, such as for those who live here. They have to produce a negative test result before arrival and observe strict quarantine.

As for arrivals from the UK, she said that now that the UK is on the amber list, arrivals do not need to quarantine once they produced a negative test result for COVID-19.

Talks are currently being held with airlines (serving all destinations) to ensure that travellers produce a vaccination certificate or a negative virus test before they board their flights. This, she said, was necessary not only from a safety point of view but also in view of the fact that anyone who tested positive on arrival would have to quarantine for two weeks and could not return to his country before that time. 

Alcohol and vaccination

Replying to various other questions, Gauci said that although there was no correlation between the vaccine and drinking alcohol, patients were always advised not to drink alcohol when take medicines.

Gauci did not give a date as to when a call will be issued for those aged below 40 to take the vaccine, saying the current group is a big one. But she urged all young people to take the vaccine once they are invited to.

She also stressed that vaccines administered by private GPs are provided free by the government. People can apply to their private GPs if they are of the same age as the cohort being jabbed in vaccination clinics. 

She also urged all those who had tested positive and since then recovered to also take the vaccine, after allowing four weeks.  Immunity is stronger from the vaccine than natural immunity, she said. 

With regard to residents in old people’s homes, she said a plan has been drafted to further reduce measures, including allowing the elderly out of the care homes, when the appropriate stage was reached. 

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