Doctors have criticised plans to ease some COVID-19 restrictions and have warned that Mater Dei hospital will "soon be unable to cope" with the number of patients with the virus.

The Medical Association of Malta has claimed the last intensive care unit at the hospital "may soon need to be opened" to deal with the caseload.

In her latest update on Friday, Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci said there 80 people with COVID-19 being treated at the hospital, including 16 in the intensive treatment unit.

It is not known what percentage of occupancy this represents. 

The doctors said that while the Christmas period led to “a disastrous increase”, the measures announced before carnival holidays earlier this month “have proven to be completely inadequate” with a further rise in cases.

MAM said it agreed with Health Minister Chris Fearne on the contributing causes, and the extension of the ban on bars, however it said the government must take responsibility for its failure to take more effective measures.

Fearne on Wednesday said that new testing guidelines, lack of social distancing and a more virulent virus strain may all be behind Malta’s stubbornly high number of daily COVID-19 cases.

He also said that bars and band clubs will remain shut throughout March but some care homes will see measures relaxed due to the success of the vaccine. Restaurants were also to be allowed to close at midnight instead of 11pm.

MAM said in its statement that the extension of restaurant operation hours and the removal of the shielding Perspex from care homes for the elderly “can only be labelled as political decisions which are only guided by populism”, and bordered “on the irresponsible” from a medical point of view.

It said that while Malta’s vaccination rate is progressing faster than in other EU countries, the first patient from the tens of thousands between 60 and 80 years still had to be vaccinated. 

It also said it was informed that numerous cases and four deaths have been reported in a single government elderly care home since vaccination started. 

While vaccines are highly effective, they are not a 100 per cent guarantee from the virus, especially when circulating numbers in the community are high.

The encouragement of more social activities and the removal of shielding at homes while older people between the ages of 60 and 80 slowly slid down the vaccination priority list “will only contribute to make matters worse,” it warned.

MAM encouraged the government and the public health authorities to take measures “which are adequate for the situation”.

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