• Over 60s to receive vaccine appointments 
  • More than half of cases linked to household clusters
  • More contagious UK variant still spreading 
  • Average patient age is 38.9, most deaths among men aged 80-84 
  • 150 cases in hospital, 23 in intensive care

People aged over 60 will now start receiving invites to be vaccinated, Charmaine Gauci has announced as Malta approves AstraZeneca for those aged up to 70. 

The Superintendent of Public Health made the announcement during a briefing on COVID-19, which took place a day after the country was forced to bring in new restrictions to curb a surge in cases. 

She said research showed that the drug, which was at one point restricted to the under 55s, could now be used up to the age of 70.

"As from today, all those younger than 70 will be able to get this vaccine. This means we can vaccinate even more people," she said. "We are now going to start sending invites to those over 60." 

She said this was a very large group of people so the invites will be sent out in batches and encouraged people not to call the COVId-19 helpline if they do not immediately receive one.

What about the over 70s? 

Gauci explained that people aged between 60 and 70 will be given the jab in parallel to those aged between 75 and 80, who will be offered the Pfizer or Moderna jab.

This suggests that those aged between 70 and 75, who are not eligible for the AstraZeneca jab, will have to wait for the older age group to be vaccinated or for more Pfizer and Moderna jabs to become available.

Some 90 per cent of those aged over 85 have already been vaccinated, while frontline workers, including teachers, university staff, water service and WasteServ employees are also getting the jab. 

The step up in the vaccination drive comes as Malta's high cases continued with 283 new COVID-19 infections announced on Friday and three deaths.

New restrictions to curb the virus include restaurants and cafes shut until April 11, private gatherings limited to four households and a ban on contact sport for the under-16s. 

How is COVID-19 being spread?

Gauci gave a breakdown of the cases, with the large majority, 1,963 linked to households.

The second largest cluster is through social gatherings, accounting for some 835 cases, with 552 from workplaces, 180 through school and university, and 39 from sports. 

"What we’re seeing is what led to the measures we announced yesterday," Gauci said."We need to limit interaction to our own household, our own bubble. That's the best way to protect ourselves. We are recommending that people do not invite others over to their homes but if they do, there is a maximum of four households."

When health authorities analysed the numbers, they found that eating out was the most common social gathering and that with the highly-transmissible UK variant, "a whole table is infected if there is one case".

However, she said weddings were being allowed to go ahead because precautions were being followed and so authorities did not observe high numbers of cases.

Gauci last week blamed the UK variant for the surge in cases and said that while the latest results are not yet available, health authorities expect it to account for more than the previous estimate of eight per cent of cases.  

Who is getting the virus?

Most of those with the virus live in Malta, which accounts for 2,935, while 193 people living in Gozo have the infection. 

With the elderly prioritised for the vaccine, cases in older age groups have dropped, leaving the average age of a patient at 38.9 years old.

And while the average age at death stands at 70.3, down from 84.9 in mid-January, most deaths are still of men aged 80-84, she said.

Meanwhile 7,486 people have been ordered into two-week quarantine either because they have the virus or have been in close contact with a case.  

Of the 3,252, active cases, 150 are being treated in hospital with 19 in Mater Dei's intensive treatment unit and four in a similar facility in Gozo General Hospital.

While hospital visits have been banned, Gauci clarified that pregnant women will be allowed to have their partners present during labour

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