- Mandatory mask rule relaxed from July 1
- Malta reaches 'herd immunity'
- Vaccine certificates 'in coming days'
- 'Some version' of traditional feasts may be allowed from July
People who are fully vaccinated will not have to wear a mask outdoors from July as Malta on Monday achieved 'herd immunity' against COVID-19 and plans to ease more restrictions, Chris Fearne announced.
The measure, which will only come into effect if virus case numbers remain low, will only apply if vaccinated people are outdoors alone or with another vaccinated person.
Masks will remain obligatory for groups of more than two people or in settings involving a person who is not yet vaccinated, as well as while inside public buildings, shops or other establishments.
It comes as Malta achieves its goal of giving 70 per cent of the adult population at least one dose of the vaccine, the first country in the EU to reach this goal.
"Today we have reached herd immunity. The vaccine is a weapon against the virus," the health minister said.
Herd immunity takes place when a large proportion of a population is vaccinated or has had the infection, thus lowering the spread of an infectious disease.
The health minister made the announcement in a news conference with Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci.
The 70 per cent target was set by the European Commission, with all member states expected to reach the milestone by the end of summer. However, it is not clear if the EU target was for one or two doses of the vaccine.
Malta is currently vaccinating people at a faster rate than its EU peers.
Fearne said by Monday evening 70% of adults will have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, while 42% of the population have been completely vaccinated at this stage.
He encouraged people aged 16-29 to come forward and register, saying 52% of this age group had signed up so far.
There are only six patients in Mater Dei Hospital with COVID-19, including just four in ITU.
Further easing planned
He was speaking as Malta entered another phase in its reopening timeline - with gyms and pools welcoming back patrons on Monday and restaurants allowed to open until midnight.
Fearne said while authorities had released a plan until the end of June, "this does not mean there will not be further easing of measures".
He said he would be meeting with entertainment and arts practitioners on Monday to "plan reintroduction of these activities".
While traditional feasts with processions will not be allowed to take place, Fearne said that after talking to the Curia, authorities were considering "some version" of the events could be allowed to take place after the end of June.
"The key to all of this remains the vaccination rate," he said. "There is still 30% of the public that needs to be vaccinated".
He said a vaccine certificate would be launched in the coming days and from July authorities would be able to use this to begin to open cultural and entertainment events.
Meanwhile, residents of elderly homes have been allowed to go out on excursions from Monday.
Asked when Malta could expect to return to normality, Fearne said the country had "started the road to normality".
Vaccines are being administered to anyone aged 16 and over, although health authorities may expand vaccination to include children aged 12 to 15 if the European Medicines Authority advises countries to do so.
According to official figures released by health authorities on Monday, a total of 474,475 COVID-19 vaccination jabs have been administered so far. The figures show that 302,933 of these were first doses.
The latest population figures, made available by the National Statistics Office, which date to the end of 2019, show that Malta’s total population stands at 514,564. The number of people aged 16 and over amounts to 432,616.
Four vaccines are currently being administered – Pfizer-BioNtech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.