Three out of every four new cases of COVID-19 are of the highly-transmissible UK variant, Charmaine Gauci warned in her weekly update on the virus situation in Malta. 

She said that, as of March 13, almost 76 per cent of new cases were of the new strain that was first reported on the island in December. 

Scientists say the UK variant, known as B.1.1.7 and now dominant in Malta, is more infectious and may be more deadly, although research is at its very early stages.

There are three cases of the South Africa variant, which may be more resistant to some vaccines, according to a University of Oxford study. No other variants have been found on the island. 

"We have to be careful to limit the spread," Gauci said, warning that community spread is increasing. 

On Thursday 243 new cases of the virus were reported from 4,760 tests as well as two more deaths, taking the overall death toll to 363. 

The Superintendent of Public Health’s briefing comes after Malta tightened its rules on the number of people who mix in homes, limiting it to two households. 

Watch the update live below

She said more people had been added to staff the 145 vaccine helpline, which has been overwhelmed with calls from people wanting to get information about the jab. It now has 50 people dedicated to it from 6am until 9pm. 

Gauci encouraged the public to use the helpline responsibly and to be patient and wait for an invitation to receive the vaccine. Those who do so should arrive on time and at the appropriate place, she said. 

She said errors such as people receiving a vaccine invite after receiving the jab could be down to them being on "more than one list". She said it was important that people then cancel the second appointment. 

"We have a strategy that prioritises those who can most benefit from the vaccine: the elderly, the vulnerable, and front liners," she added. 

She reiterated that there have been "no serious adverse effects" reported in anyone who has taken the vaccine.

Where are COVID-19 patients being treated?

Of the 3,034 active virus cases, 229 are being treated in hospital, including 32 of the sickest patients receiving intensive care. The full breakdown is: 

  • 29 in Mater Dei's intensive treatment unit;
  • 13 in Mater Dei's infectious diseases unit;
  • 87 in other Mater Dei wards;
  • Eight in Gozo hospital, including three in intensive care;
  • 19 in Sir Paul Boffa hospital;
  • 21 in St Thomas hospital;
  • 31 in the Good Samaritan facility;
  • 16 in Mount Carmel mental health hospital;
  • Five in Karin Grech hospital

Gauci defended criticism of the way Malta has handled the latest wave of COVID-19, saying all decisions were made on the basis of science.

Asked why, for example, lotto booths were allowed to remain open but were closed during a similar quasi-shutdown last year, she said impact assessments were carried out on each case. 

"We have evaluated it and found that, for example, when a person goes to a lotto booth he or she just goes in, takes the lotto ticket and leaves," she said.

"It's a completely different situation than say going to buy clothes. It's very quick and you don't take long so this is why we decided to let them operate."

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