Updated 2.40pm

Public health chief Charmaine Gauci on Wednesday avoided criticising politicians who went without a mask during Monday's Budget speech, despite public health rules.

Gauci was challenged by Times of Malta readers on Wednesday over images of government MPs not wearing masks for the duration of Monday's two-and-a-half-hour speech. 

But while insisting on the importance of mask-wearing to "protect others", Gauci would not comment on the politicians' decision to not don face coverings, instead saying the authorities were studying schools and workplaces to decide on the way forward. 

During the Budget speech, the majority of government MPs - bar a handful including health minister Chris Fearne - could be seen without their masks.

Mask-wearing is mandatory in all workplaces and any indoor public place, such as Parliament. Masks can only be removed while eating or, in the case of the MPs, while public speaking. 

The majority of MPs on the Opposition side could be seen wearing their masks throughout the lengthy session. 

This prompted a reaction from Times of Malta readers who claimed it was unfair the politicians were allowed to not wear masks while young children, teachers and others in the education sector had to spend their days in masks. 

But Gauci would not comment on the matter, despite repeated questions from readers during Times of Malta's Ask Charmaine show.

"Social distancing provided in schools is more than what MPs had during the budget. What is their excuse?," one reader asked when Gauci said social distancing was being factored in when looking at the possibility of removing masks. 

Workplaces, booster shots, hospital patients

Meanwhile, according to Gauci, apart from schools, workplaces are also being studied, to establish whether masking rules there can be relaxed after December.

Asked why it would take so long for a decision to be reached, Gauci said the authorities wanted to study the situation carefully.

On booster shots given to the elderly and the immunocompromised, Gauci said takeup has been "very good".

In homes for the elderly, some 97 per cent of the residents were vaccinated. As a result, there were currently no clusters in homes for the elderly and only one patient is being treated at the Good Samaritan facility, which is used to isolate residents with COVID-19 to avoid the spread of the virus in care homes. 

And on the seven patients in hospital, none of which are in ITU, Gauci said some were asymptomatic and were only in hospital because they were found to be positive for the virus before surgery. 

"These patients are still held in isolation at Mater Dei in the COVID-19 wards," Gauci said, noting that the impact of the vaccine was evident since most people who are infected nowadays have only mild symptoms.



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