Masks will need to continue being worn during the warmer months, even on the beach, Charmaine Gauci has said, quashing hopes that face coverings can be discarded as the heat rises.

While the health authorities have raised the prospect of herd immunity being achieved by June, the public health chief slammed the brakes on the assumption being made by some people that masks will no longer need to be worn in the hot weather.

Some of the measures introduced to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 – including mask wearing in all public places, hand washing and social distancing – must remain in place, she said.

“As the number of cases slowly falls, we need to understand that by relaxing some of the measures we are already heightening the risks,” she said.

“So it is very important that we do not relax on mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing.”

She said there were talks on mask wearing “even at EU level”.

“We need to see how things progress but the impact of wearing masks is very clear. So, for the time being, we need to keep these masks because we know that they work,” she added.

This rule also applies to beaches: beachgoers must put on their mask “as soon as possible” after leaving the water for a dip and also ensure they keep a two-metre distance from others.

She would not commit to a timeline when mask-wearing might no longer be mandatory in all public places, saying instead the authorities needed to monitor the situation closely. Decisions would be taken based on the level of spread in the community as well as monitoring other countries.

The issue of masks on beaches was raised in Malta after Spain changed its position in recent days to allow people to sunbathe or swim without having to don face shields.

The law, which came into force earlier this month, sparked a huge backlash in Spain.

Like Malta, the country is heavily dependent on tourism, particularly in coastal areas which are gearing up for summer and lobbying hard for the introduction of vaccination passports.

Gauci said the authorities were monitoring the situation closely and would take decisions based on the level of spread in the community as well as what was being done in other countries. Mask wearing became mandatory in October, with anyone caught without a face covering outside their private residence being liable to a €100 fine.

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