The highly-transmissible UK variant of COVID-19 is being spread locally in Malta, leading to record high cases of the virus, Charmaine Gauci has said.

For the first time, the seven-day moving average, which is regarded as the best indicator of the pandemic's trend, has topped 200 cases a day, standing at 203. 

The superintendent of public health said the variant accounts for around eight per cent of all cases and while it was initially imported, authorities are now seeing more cases with no links to other countries.

"The variant has an impact on the virus situation in that it is transmitted more quickly. It is therefore crucial to continue monitoring the situation," she said.

There are 61 confirmed cases of the UK variant, and still only one of the equally transmissible South Africa variant.

Gauci was delivering her weekly update on COVID-19 in Malta on Friday - a day of record case numbers, with 258 people testing positive for the virus and concerns from doctors about the impact on Mater Dei hospital admissions. Rapid tests are now also added to the daily figure, with 34 of the 258 cases recorded on Friday coming from these type of tests.  

Watch the update live below:

Impact of vaccine

However Malta continues to lead the EU in its vaccine roll out programme and has so far given 50,249 people - the equivalent of ten per cent of the population - at least one dose of the vaccine. A further 22,501 people have been given a second dose.

While case numbers are high, Gauci said the impact of vaccination was "clear", noting few cases among the over 80s (a group that is being vaccinated) compared to younger people, who have yet to get the jab.

There are less than twenty cases of COVID-19 in homes for the elderly. Four homes have a total of eight cases while there are 14 active cases at the St Vincent de Paul home for the elderly. 

"It’s important to stick to our bubble, to our family," she warned. "The majority of clusters are in households, gatherings and workplaces."

The average age of a COVID-19 patient is 38.9 years.

Rise in ITU numbers

There are fewer people being treated in hospital this week compared to last week but there has been a slight increase in the numbers receiving intensive care.

Of the 130 people, down from 140 last week, being treated in hospital for COVID-19, Gauci said 19 were in Mater Dei's intensive treatment unit - an increase on the 16 revealed in last week's figures. 

Eight patients are in the infectious diseases unit while 47 are in other wards in Mater Dei. The remaining patients are being treated in various hospitals and facilities in Malta and in Gozo General Hospital.

Quarantine rule change

Gauci confirmed that in recent weeks Malta has begun following advice from the European Centres of Disease Control and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on relaxing quarantine rules.

While COVID-19 patients must still remain in quarantine for 14 days, they are no longer required to take a second test before exiting. 

She confirmed 6,313 people are currently in quarantine. 

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