People planning a family meal over Christmas should only do so within their own household, the Superintendent of Public health has advised.

While there are no restrictions in the country against gatherings in private homes, Charmaine Gauci urged people not to invite others around to celebrate.

“I appeal to those who are planning a family lunch, please remain with your own household," she said during her weekly briefing. 

"If you invite people outside of your household, there is a risk of transmission. At a table it is difficult to maintain social distance, and at a meal you will remove your mask, and if there is alcohol it might be harder to continue following the measures.”

She warned people against thinking that a negative COVID-19 test means they can meet friends and family. 

"This is a wrong mentality. When one does a swab test, there are situations that the individual does not have enough microbes for the test to pick up and if they are carrying the virus they put others at risk," she said.

What is Malta's rate of infection?

Gauci's warning came despite Malta seeing a drop in the number of new cases, with a seven-day moving average of 98. On Friday,  96 new cases were announced - the third time this week that the number of new patients has dropped below 100.

"This shows that there has been an impact with the measures, and contact tracing, to ensure that the number of cases remains low," she said.

She said that while in other countries, the positivity rate has continued to increase, Malta's rate, at 3.9 per cent, has remained stable. The positivity rate is the percentage of all coronavirus tests performed that are actually positive.

However there were two deaths: a 75-year-old man in the Sant Vincent de Paul home for the elderly and a 96-year-old man who died at Mater Dei hospital.

A total of 186 people are being treated in hospital, with 17 of the worst cases in the intensive treatment unit at Mater Dei. 

Where is COVID-19 being spread?

Gauci said that while transmission in homes for the elderly has reduced overall, six homes have registered an increase in cases.  

Households remain the largest cluster of patients, with 146, followed by the workplace at 51, imported cases at seven and social gatherings at two. 

Of the 1,817 cases, 55 are in Gozo, with the rest in Malta. 

There has been a peak in two age groups: those aged 25-34 and those aged 35-44, who are the groups most likely to be at workplaces.

The 75-84 age group has the highest mortality rate, with men more impacted than women.  

Will social distancing end with the vaccine?

Gauci said the EU has six contracts in place for the vaccine, which is due to be distributed in Malta in the new year to healthcare workers, those aged over 85 and people living and working in care homes.

But she warned that until the majority of the population has herd immunity, everyone will need to continue wearing masks and comply with social distancing rules.

"Then, slowly, slowly, we will lift the measures," she said. 

Asked about vaccine side effects, she said that while people might notice a slight increase in fever and tiredness, these are minimum symptoms when compared with COVID-19.

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