Public health chief Charmaine Gauci announced on Wednesday that only two households can now mix in private residences to better control the spread of COVID-19. 

Though mostly perceived as a wise move, especially since the previous limit of four households had often been criticised by many for being too lenient, the change has left many scratching their heads wondering what they can and cannot do. 

So what does the new restriction mean?

This latest measure will soon become law and so it has to be adhered to. Gauci, speaking during Times of Malta's live show Ask Charmaine, confirmed the rule is not merely a recommendation but a legal notice will be issued later on Wednesday.

This means that, as from Wednesday, gatherings in a private home can only be made up of people from two different households, including the one where the meet-up is taking place. 

For the sake of the laws on public health, a household can be made up of both family members and people unrelated to each other, as long as they live in the same residence.

Therefore, those living in shared accommodation will be considered as one household while two relatives living in separate homes are still considered to be part of two households. 

'Can my brother and I visit our mother at her home?' 

Yes you can, as long as you do not visit at the same time.

But the first thing to keep in mind right now is that social interactions should be limited and the elderly and vulnerable should be protected at all times. This means that visits to relatives who might be at a higher risk should be kept to a minimum and meeting in balconies, gardens or yards is preferred. 

But if you do choose to meet up, you need to remember that relatives living apart are still subject to the rule, even when visiting a parent or an elderly relative. 

This means siblings might need to plan ahead to avoid meeting up at their parents' home.

'And what about Easter lunch?'

Plans for a family Easter lunch might need to be cancelled this year, unless you stick to celebrating with only people from one other household.

"The virus does not know that two people are brother and sister," Gauci said matter-of-factly.

Rules for workplaces remain unchanged

While employers have been urged to promote remote working, this is not possible in some cases and some might still have to turn up at their place of work. 

The latest rule on households does not impact the measures already in place for workplaces. Though mask-wearing and social distancing continue to be mandatory, people from different households are allowed to mix at workplaces.

The measures for outdoor gatherings also remains unchanged. This means four people can gather outside as long as they wear masks at all times. And if they get hungry or want to smoke, they can do so only while sitting down. 

'What if...'

...'I need to carry out works at home?'

If the works are necessary, workers are allowed. This means that if, for instance, a plumber needs to visit a home together with an assistant, meaning there will be three households at the residence, this will not be against the law.

All the necessary precautions have to be taken however, with workers urged to wear masks at all times to avoid the virus spreading. 

...'I receive care from healthcare workers at home?'

This too is allowed and those receiving care, be it from one nurse or three, will still be treated in the same way as before.

...'I live in shared accommodation?'

The so-called bubble concept kicks in here. Those in the shared accommodation are considered one household. Any other visitor makes up a second household. Even if unrelated, a housemate cannot invite someone over if there already is another outsider at the home visiting someone else. 

...'I come across someone breaking the law?'

Gauci was adamant on this - the public need to be mindful of their decisions. But if someone comes across any breaches, they can call the authorities and lodge a report.


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