Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci has come out against the organisation of mass gatherings and events in a fresh set of guidelines issued on Friday evening.
The Superintendent made her opinion known for the first time in a note, highlighted in red, accompanying the set of mitigation conditions rolled out as part of efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Gauci rarely speaks out against government policy.
New cases have spiked over the past week, with clusters involving those who attended mass events reported daily.
The spike prompted doctors and nurses to call strikes on Monday unless the mass events are banned. Health Minister Chris Fearne announced the re-introduction of restrictions on Thursday, amid public outrage, though the doctors believe this was “too little, too late”.
Large events have a particularly substantial impact on the health system capacity and resources if they result in a significant number of new COVID-19 cases, a statement in the report reads.
“For this reason, the Superintendence of Public Health reiterates its position that it is not in favour of the organisation of mass gatherings or events.
“Nonetheless, these standards have been issued to mitigate against the transmission of COVID-19 in events and gatherings.”
Mass events have been classified into four categories: low risk, medium risk, high risk and extremely high risk. The first involves online events where there is no face-to-face contact. Medium risk events involve smaller outdoor gatherings that involve people from different households who have not travelled abroad and who can stay two metres apart and wear mask.
The high and extremely high risk events are those that involve people who have travelled abroad and events where the attendees cannot stand two metres apart.
“Another aspect that determines the level of risk for mass events is the proportion of attendees that are more likely to develop serious complications if they were to contract a COVID-19 infection.
“Transmission of COVID-19 at an event where a greater proportion of attendees are elderly or persons classified as vulnerable due to underlying conditions or low immunity, is likely to have greater impact on the healthcare system due to increased hospitalisation of these individuals,” the document reads.
Spontaneous mass events should be avoided because there would be no time for adequate planning and preparations.
As announced on Thursday, event organisers who host more than 100 people must carry out a risk assessment which needs to be presented to the Malta Tourism Authority and the Public Health authorities prior to the event. A police permit must also be obtained.
“If appropriate mitigation standards cannot be implemented to mitigate the risk of spread to acceptable levels, the application for the proposed mass event may be rejected,” the document reads.
The number of people allowed inside a venue, including staff and any volunteers, must not be worked out before the event in order to ensure there is four square metres for every individual.
During such events, groups of more than 10 are not allowed, unless they are from the same household.
On enforcement, Times of Malta is informed there will be spot checks carried out by public health officials together with MTA officials.
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