Malta needs to retain mask-wearing requirements because it is more densely populated than other countries and the risk of infection from COVID-19 is therefore higher, the superintendent of public health said on Wednesday.
Masks are currently mandatory in all public places, both indoor and outdoor, with an exception made for people at beaches.
While fully vaccinated people will, from Thursday week, be able to ditch their masks in open spaces when alone or in the company of one other fully vaccinated person, Gauci stressed that further easing of the mask-wearing requirement can only happen when more people are fully vaccinated.
“We are taking small steps. Bigger steps will mean bigger risks,” she told Times of Malta’s Ask Charmaine programme.
She said that 80% of the adult population has now had one dose of the vaccine, 67% are fully vaccinated and the roll-out continues to go well.
It was important, she stressed, that people took two doses, pointing out that the Delta variant in the UK had spread among people with a single dose.
Malta had 26 active virus cases as of Wednesday, with no new COVID-19 cases reported that day.
Half of the new cases are imported – but they are not found at the airport
As for the number of new cases, Gauci stressed that the fact that no new cases were found on some days did not mean there were no cases.
“It all depends on people coming forward for testing, and some people can have no symptoms or mild symptoms and they would not think they have COVID,” she said.
“That is why we continue to have mitigation measures.”
As for the reported cases, she said half were imported – and they were not picked up at the airport but during the people’s stay in Malta, with the incubation period lasting as much as 14 days.
What variants and how many patients in hospital?
As for the type of COVID-19 cases in Malta, she said about half were the so-called Alpha [UK] variant. There were 31 cases of the Gamma [Brazil] variant because of a cluster among youths seen some weeks ago. There were seven cases of the Beta [South Africa] variant and a single case of the Delta [India] variant, detected some weeks ago.
She said there is only one COVID-19 patient in hospital. She is in stable condition in a COVID ward. There are no virus patients at the ITU or in old people’s homes.
Gauci admitted to being concerned about queues in the airport's arrivals hall and said the authorities were doing their best to ease the problems by having electronic scanning.
It was better if arrivals came carrying vaccination certificates rather than PCR results, she said. She was hopeful that Malta will link up with the European green passports system on July 1.
Asked about people having difficulty when downloading their vaccination certificates, she said it was better if people used their E-id to log on. Those having problems should call hotline number 145.
Asked when people can return to gym classes, she said an announcement of further easing of measures will be announced in the coming days.
On summer schools, she said the same protocols will be held as normal schools, where the outcome had been very successful and there had been no clusters.
The Ask Charmaine programme was presented by Claire Farrugia.