The superintendent of public health has warned people against socialising over the new year after a tombola event resulted in eight elderly people contracting COVID-19.

Some 70 elderly people have also been placed in quarantine after the function this week, Charmaine Gauci revealed during her weekly update on the virus situation in Malta.

"This is not the time for gatherings, especially involving the elderly," she said.

Gauci, who has repeatedly advised against social gatherings, said that authorities were seeing signs of contamination from people who met to socialise over the festive period.

Watch the briefing live below

Three cases of new variant

Her briefing came hours after the first cases of the new, highly-infectious variant of the virus were detected on the island. Malta has detected three cases of the new variant, first reported by the UK last month.

Two were foreigners, a woman aged 37 and a man aged 47, who arrived in Malta from the UK on December 19, and who tested positive at the airport. The third case is a 75-year-old Maltese woman, whose contacts are being investigated.

The first two patients experienced mild symptoms and are being quarantined in the community, she said. 

Gauci said that after the new variant was reported in the UK, health authorities sent a message to all those who arrived from Britain since December 13 to come forward. Of those who did, eight tested positive.

"So far we know that the new variant has a 70 per cent higher rate of contamination," she said. "We will remain vigilant and maintain controls at borders. Genetic sequencing will continue."

One new death

On Wednesday, 124 new cases were announced, and 138 recoveries, taking the number of active cases of COVID-19 to 1,392. 

One person died with the virus on Tuesday - a 93-year-old woman, who was a patient at the Good Samaritan facility, and who tested positive on December 22.

Twelve of the most seriously-ill patients are being treated at the intensive treatment unit at Mater Dei. More than 150 patients are being treated in other wards and hospitals, while the remainder are recovering at home. 

Of the clusters of cases, 152 were related to households, 63 connected to work and 37 linked to gatherings. The majority of COVID-19 patients are in Malta, with 87 active cases in Gozo.

The average age over the past week was 43 and most of the victims of the virus are men aged between 75 and 84. 

In the last week, five people tested positive from 1,573 tests at the Malta International Airport, arriving from Italy, Austria and Poland. 

Elderly vaccinations to begin

Gauci's briefing comes during the first week of a nationwide vaccination programme.

While she did not reveal how many people have had the jab, she said the Pfizer vaccination is being rolled out according to plan, with the aim of reducing morbidity and mortality. 

There have been no side effects reported in Malta and Gauci said all her healthcare colleagues were able to return to work immediately upon receiving the first dose of the jab. 

Elderly home residents and staff will begin being vaccinated soon, with those aged over 85 living in the community due to be invited for the jab in the new year. 

"This is an effective and safe jab," she said. "Several people are asking about allergic reactions - only those allergic to injectable treatments or other vaccines need to speak to their GP about whether they should take the vaccination or not," she said. 

Children aged under 16, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should not take the vaccine.

Bars to stay shut until February

Stressing the importance of social distancing measures, Gauci confirmed that bars and clubs will remain shut until February 1, with a legal notice due to be published on Wednesday.

It is the second time the restriction has been extended. They were initially due to reopen on December 1, with that date delayed until January 1 and now until the beginning of February.

Gauci said that the impact of Christmas gatherings won't be known until next week.

"This is not the time for parties. Let's take care of ourselves and the elderly, so that we can keep the numbers low until we can vaccinate more people."

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.