The reopening of schools will be the first priority for health authorities as they prepare a plan to exit quasi-lockdown next month, Charmaine Gauci has said.

"Education comes before entertainment," the Superintendent of Public Health told Times of Malta's Ask Charmaine programme on Tuesday.  

Schools, restaurants and non-essential services have been shut since March 10 as part of a series of measures implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19, and which will remain in place until at least April 11.

Health authorities are currently working on an exit plan as the numbers of infections drop but no details have been made public. 

Answering questions from Times of Malta readers, however, Gauci said schools would come first. 

"Schools have always been our priority," she said. "We’ve done whatever we can to allow the schools to reopen."

Watch the full programme below

Talks are also under way with the education ministry in order to facilitate A level and O level exams, she said.

She was speaking as the island recorded its lowest daily case numbers so far this year, with just 55 people testing positive.

Gauci revealed that the stringent measures, which also include a requirement for all arrivals to produce a negative COVID-19 test or submit themselves for testing, have had an impact on the most seriously ill. 

"We had a phase where we had over 20 patients in ITU (Intensive Treatment Unit). Right now we have only 13," she said. "That is a dramatic decrease in the number of patients in ITU." 

She also warned that people should expect more 'variants of concern' to emerge but said that stricter measures on airport arrivals were part of the authorities' plans "to try to limit them".

On Sunday, the government announced a requirement that all arrivals to Malta must produce a negative COVID-19 test or submit themselves for testing.

"For the South Africa variant, we have so far only had three cases, "Gauci said. "It has remained unchanged - this is why we made more stringent rules for travel because we know a number of countries in the EU have the South African variants."

Malta also has the fastest vaccination rate in the EU, as more than a third of the population has received at least one dose. 

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