Just one new COVID-19 infection was detected overnight from a total of 944 tests, bringing Malta’s total number of coronavirus cases up to 468. 

The single infected patient is a resident of the Ħal Far open centre – a Sudanese man aged 27. The centre is currently under lockdown with residents divided into clusters as they undergo quarantine. 

Twelve more patients have recovered, meaning healthcare professionals are now looking after 85 active cases. The majority of those patients are recovering at home.

“The R-factor is below 1 and we want to keep it that way. We have now started easing measures, including the opening of non-essential retail outlets. These will be allowed to open provided they adhere to some conditions,” Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci said. 

A virus’ R-factor represents the number of people each infected person is, on average, transmitting the virus to. 

 

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Relaxed restrictions

Gauci urged people to abide by the new measures announced on Friday, which will require shoppers and bus commuters to wear face masks and will restrict footfall in retail outlets, among other things. 

A legal notice introducing these changed measures into law will be published before Monday, she said, adding that the legal notice would empower enforcement officers to monitor shops and ensure they obeyed the law. 

Vulnerable people - those aged over 65, pregnant women and people with some key preexisting medical conditions - will still not be allowed to travel to Gozo, she added. 

Gauci said it is still too early to reopen churches and allow people to attend religious services.  

Clothes store owners could allow shoppers to take garments home to try them on, she said, as changing rooms would be kept shut. Any garments returned would have to kept separate, in quarantine, for 72 hours. 

 

Health authorities had decided which measures to relax following a risk assessment exercise, she said. 

The revised restrictions will be reevaluated in three weeks' time. 

A virus warning

Gauci however warned people not to take the decision to relax restrictions as a sign that things were back to normal. 

"The virus is still out there. Just because we are reopening shops, it doesn't mean that we can all just go out. If people do that, all the good work so far will be undone". 

Malta remained in a state of public health emergency, she said. 

More than 15,000 people have so far used a symptom testing app unveiled this week, with a further 1,700 people having accessed the app website and tested on somebody else’s behalf. 

Gauci urged people to make use of the app, saying statistics gathered were anonymous. 

Face masks

Gauci said the decision to make mask-wearing mandatory in shops and buses was part of the broader package of relaxed restrictions. 

Authorities have until now advised people not to wear a face mask, saying these should be reserved for doctors, nurses and others in healthcare settings. 

“We are taking certain risks by lifting some measures,” she said. “We need to mitigate this by stepping up the use of face masks.” 

Face masks, she reiterated, were required to protect people from asymptomatic carriers – people who have the virus but exhibit no symptoms. 

Prefab hospital

Preparations to build a prefabricated hospital to house COVID-19 patients were continuing despite the drop in new daily cases, she said. 

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