• Bars, gyms, childcare centres to reopen
  • Religious services to resume from mid-June
  • All workers expected to return to work
  • Masks still required in shops
  • No mass gatherings allowed, but six-person limit removed
  • No contact sports for now
  • Airport to reopen for services to 19 countries on July 1

A number of COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted by Friday, but no mass gatherings or contact sports will be allowed for the time being, Prime Minister Robert Abela announced on Monday.  The airport will reopen on July 1 with services initially restricted to 19 countries, he confirmed. 

Religious services are expected to resume by mid-June.

Abela said Malta was returning to normality.

This was thanks to the people of Gozo and Malta who were so disciplined, he said.

He confirmed that on Friday restrictions introduced over the past weeks will be lifted.

"The second wave or the spike have not materialised and the numbers from the medical aspect have continued to go down," he said.

He confirmed that a mini-budget will be announced on Monday with generous measures to further incentivise businesses. 

"We want our businesses to be up and running," he said, adding that some of the measures will also target the people, although the main purpose was to boost investment.

He also confirmed that the airport will reopen on July 1, initially with services to 19 countries. 

Abela said some protocols will apply in the new norm, especially social distancing, the wearing of masks and hygiene. 

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Wearing of masks will be required in establishments that are being opened. But the restriction on clothes shops which outlawed trying clothes in changing rooms will now be rescinded.

He said everyone will have to go back to work, including those considered vulnerable and given special concessions. They, however, should be vigilant. Work gives dignity, he added.

The prime minister thanked the people for their discipline and sacrifice, saying this experience united the nation. 

The Covid measures started being introduced soon after the first case was reported on March 7. Non-essential shops were allowed to reopen on May 4 and restaurants and hairdressers reopened for business last week. All court sittings are expected to resume in the coming days. 

Malta has seen some 600 Covid-19 cases but 537 patients have recovered. One new case was reported overnight.

Moving from a state of war to peace, with alert - Fearne

Health Minister Chris Fearne said Malta now had an R Factor (the virus transmission rate) of 0.5 and it was therefore in a position to lift the restrictions that had been imposed.

"We no longer need to be in a state of war. We can go to a state of peace, but we need to stay alert" he said.

The minister spoke on how the health authorities had prepared early for Covid-19 and they had robust early warning systems in place to immediately tackle any new cases as soon as they were discovered. 

"This gives us the peace of mind to move forward" he said while thanking all involved in fighting the virus. 

The priority of the authorities, he said, was and would remain public health. 

The Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci, said strategies were based on evidence, an extensive testing programme and contact-tracing. 

Quarantine of affected persons had been essential to control and contain the virus. 

She said the authorities had monitored the relaxation of restrictions in the past weeks and would continue to do so.

"We will be with you and we will issue guidelines to avoid the risk of transmission," she said, adding that the testing regime would continue to be strengthened. 

Childcare centres to reopen but no big events or contact sport for now

She said childcare centres can reopen, but protocols will be in place for peace of mind. The protocols will eventually be carried over to the reopening of schools in September.  The protocols include a reduced number of children being together. It was best to have small groups, like a family, groups which did not change, she said. 

Certain events can be held once more, but for now, although there will not be restrictions on public gatherings, big events with large gatherings will still be banned.

Tourism

Asked if tourists will be subject to quarantine, the prime minister said tourists will initially come from 19 destinations and they will not be quarantined. Nor will they be subjected to tests. So far, arrivals who were not from those 19 countries would be subject to quarantine. 

Replying to further questions Gauci said the initial 19 destinations were selected on the basis of their testing regime, the virus incidence and mortality rates and social distancing had to be observed in airports and aircraft.  The countries are Sardegna (Italy), Iceland, Slovakia, Sicily (Italy), Cyprus, Lithuania, Israel, Latvia, Switzerland, Norway, Estonia, Denmark, Hungary, Austria,Luxembourg, Germany, Czech Republic, Finland and Ireland.

The lifting of restrictions applied only to direct flights, and passengers had to guarantee that they were in the same country for four weeks, Gauci said. 

Replying to other questions, Abela said that for now the lifting of restrictions on contact sport was not indicated. 

'I never spoke of an automatic amnesty

On the controversy over his use of the word 'amnesty' when he spoke on Sunday about those who broke social distancing restrictions, the prime minister said such cases were considered by local tribunals. Upon conviction, people could appeal before the court of appeal or the Petitions Board. People could go before the board before or after conviction. What he spoke about on Sunday was this.

"Those who abused should pay the price, but one should recognise genuine cases, notably elderly people who never committed a crime, but did not keep social distancing while buying essential goods, for example," he said.

Some pensioners could end up being fined a fifth of their pension, at €100, he said. That fine impacted the quality of life of such people.

"I never spoke of an automatic amnesty but we need a mechanism to ensure there are no injustices for genuine people," he said. "Let us not forget the value of being humane," he said. 

He insisted that the mechanism he spoke about had already been used. "It is not a general amnesty," he said. 

Masses to resume in mid-June

On the holding of Masses, Fearne said talks had been held with the Church and details would be issued by the archbishop, but the plan was for church services to resume by mid-June, under various protocols.

Plight of migrants

Asked what would happen to the migrants currently held launches off Malta, the prime minister said he hoped there would be a solution by the time ports were reopened.

Lives had been saved, he said and the migrants were being treated humanely although he was not happy by their situation. He said the government would continue to insist that the European Union share the burden. 

This was a situation of some 800,000 migrants wanting to leave Libya, he said.

"The solution lies in Libya," he said but it was not relocation. "Relocation is a bandaid solution," he said. 

"We will not give up on finding a solution," he said. 

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