People whose loved ones live in elderly homes may once again resume their visits without being separated by a perspex barrier on Monday, but hugs and physical affection are not yet on the cards.
In a press conference on Friday, Minister for Senior Citizens and Active Ageing Michael Farrugia gave more details about how restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in old people’s homes would be gradually lifted, after Prime Minister Robert Abela said that visits to homes would be able to resume in an announcement detailing the first phase of lifted restrictions on Wednesday.
Homes where 90% of residents have received their second dose of the vaccine, and have had 15 days elapse, will from Monday be allowed to resume in-person visits without the use of a perspex barrier for up to two people from the same household.
Visitors must wear a mask and maintain a two-metre distance from the resident throughout the visits. For the time being, visits must be booked by appointment and will last for up to 25 minutes to allow the meeting place to be santised in between visits. Family members from different households will not be allowed to visit the resident at the same time and must make separate arrangements.
The minister said that 36 of the 39 old people’s homes in Malta had reached the 90% target, with one of the remaining three having reached 90% and waiting for the 15-day window to elapse.
Visiting conditions will be slightly different at St Vincent de Paul, where 97% of the resident population has been fully vaccinated, Farrugia said. Family members from different households who wished to visit their loved ones at St Vincent de Paul would continue to be able to do so from behind a perspex barrier.
Elderly people living in these homes will now also be afforded some new freedoms, including free movement around the home and in gardens, use of common areas, the resumption of meals in the dining halls and the possibility for religious and leisure activities with staff to resume, with infection control and social distancing measures in place.
The number of contingency beds homes are obliged to keep reserved for quarantine purposes has also been reduced from 5 to 2%.
If an elderly resident results positive during this time, they will be temporarily sent to another facility and be allowed to return once they test negative for the virus.
“We have to be cautious, we cannot just open up homes as they were 15 months ago, where everyone could walk in and hug and kiss their relatives,” Farrugia said.
“This is the first phase in a number of protocols which will be assessed in the coming weeks. Based on the impact we see from these decisions, more measures will be relaxed and we can eventually return to the situation as it was pre-pandemic.”
In February, Health Minister Chris Fearne had announced there would be some relaxation of measures at facilities for the elderly but these were put on hold as new virus cases continued to rise drastically, culminating with a peak of 510 cases on March 10.
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