Social distancing and the use of masks and hand sanitisers will remain in place as enforceable measures to prevent COVID-19, even as the public health emergency declared last March is lifted on Tuesday.

“The public must continue to cooperate by using masks, visors and hand sanitisers on buses and in shops and observe social distancing to protect themselves and those around them,” Charmaine Gauci said on Monday.

“These mitigation measures must remain in force as there is evidence that they have been effective in reducing community transmission,” the public health superintendent added.

Announced on March 7 when the first case was reported in Malta, the emergency declaration gave the superintendent sweeping powers to control social gatherings, close schools and non- essential shops, suspend the law courts and close down air and seaports, among other measures.

Video: Jonathan Borg

Some of the restrictions started to be relaxed in early June with the gradual re-opening of shops, restaurants and clubs, while passenger travel to and from Malta will be allowed from Wednesday.

Mitigation measures must remain in force

The easing of measures has, however, been accompanied by new restrictions, such as the need to wear a visor or mask in shops and on buses while also keeping social distances in public places.

Last month, in the wake of declining numbers of infections, Prime Minister Robert Abela announced that as from July 1 “Malta would return to complete normality” – even summer schools would be reopening.

The prime minister’s remark had raised questions about whether every single restriction was due to be lifted, especially after Tuesday.

In answer to a question from Times of Malta about whether the end of the emergency would mark the removal of all the remaining measures, Gauci clarified that certain safeguards will have to remain in place and will still be enforceable by law.

Meanwhile, the reopening of the airport and the ports as from Wednesday and from a number of destinations has raised concerns about the risk of triggering a second wave of COVID-19 from imported cases.

Flight restrictions will be lifted completely on July 15, with travel resuming from countries deemed as high risk, such as the United Kingdom. 

Gauci sought to allay the concerns, saying the reopening was only decided on the basis of evidence that the spread in Malta was in decline. The relaxation of measures in recent weeks had not resulted in a spike of new cases, she pointed out.

The first flights, she added, would be from countries where the rate of infection was low.

The situation here contrasts with other countries, such as the US and Brazil, where the increase in cases is of major concern.

As Europe, too, opens its internal borders, some countries have seen a resurgence of the virus.

 

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