Hundreds of restaurants and hairdressers are set to open their doors on Friday after a shutdown of over two months, despite doctors and nurses urging the government to row back on the lifting of more measures.

The island’s restaurants and hairdressers have been shut since March 18 as part of efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The resuming of operations on Friday also comes as sources say the Office of the Prime Minister and the health authorities are at loggerheads over the way forward and the relaxation of measures.

They also say a “rift” has developed between the two sides.

On Thursday, the rumour mill went into overdrive with the suggestion that Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci had resigned over the same issue.

The claims were however dismissed by Prime Minister Robert Abela on Twitter as “fake news”.

Later, Gauci herself refuted the claims, saying they were “a total invention”.

“We are at a crossroads and I will continue to serve in the important role with responsibility and loyalty, as I have always done,” Gauci said in a post on Facebook.

She added that the cooperation of both the public and the various authorities were crucial in helping her and her team carry out their duties with “the greatest dedication, impartiality and professionalism”.

Meanwhile, healthcare workers voiced their concerns about the reopening of establishments after 15 new coronavirus were registered overnight.

The campaign has reached new levels with fake news implying Gauci’s resignation

Doctors, nurses, as well as the UĦM, which represents various other healthcare professionals, said the spike in numbers in recent days meant it was no longer safe to forge ahead with the lifting of measures as announced on Monday. They instead want the relaxation of measures to be postponed by two weeks.

While there were 15 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, only three patients had recovered, meaning the number of active cases continued to spike to a total of 125. This was the highest figure in weeks.

The new cases were discovered from a total of 1,358 swab tests carried out on Wednesday.

Gauci has previously said that the increase in the number of cases corresponded with an increase in the number of tests being carried out. No more details on the new cases were released as the superintendent of public health’s news conferences have been reduced to only three a week. She is expected to give a two-day update on the new cases later on today.

The healthcare workers also reiterated fears about a second wave of infections. 

“Today, with 15 new cases, a second wave of infections is with us and needs to be dealt with immediately and effectively,” they said.

The number of registered cases over the past few days confirm the spike in new coronavirus patients was not a one-off but is now the trend, Medical Association of Malta head Martin Balzan told Times of Malta.

Malta Union of Nurses and Midwives head Paul Pace also echoed the concerns, saying it was “madness” to lift more measures when the impact from lifting the first set of restrictions was clearly affecting the number of cases. 

“How can we even consider re-opening restaurants and hairdressers when it is evident now that the numbers are again shooting up? 

“People have been given the wrong impression that everything is fine but it is not. Everyone is confused but the scientific evidence is clear – the virus is still among us. So it is clearly not the right time to lift measures,” Pace said.

Questions sent to the Health Ministry on the healthcare workers’ concerns remained unanswered by the time of going to print.

The reopening of restaurants and hairdressers today marks the second time measures put in place in March to control the coronavirus outbreak have been lifted.

Non-essential shops were allowed to reopen on May 4 as long as they adhered to a number of strict measures, including the mandatory wearing of masks.

Similarly, those reopening on Friday must also follow a series of social distancing measures, including by limiting the number of people allowed in one place at the same time.

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