Bars and clubs will remain closed for the month of March, while measures at old people’s homes will soon start to be eased, Health Minister Chris Fearne announced on Wednesday.
Restaurants meanwhile will be allowed to stay open till midnight, rather than 11pm.
Fearne said that given that none of those who have received both doses of the vaccine have ended up seriously ill in hospital, measures in old people’s homes will start being eased. Those homes, he said, where 90% of the residents have been fully vaccinated will see the shields go down: “This is because results show clearly that it is safe to do so”, he said.
This will include the removal of shielding, where visits will be allowed, while the elderly would also be allowed to go out from their homes.
Fearne said that the increase in cases as of late is due to cases being found through rapid testing and due to the presence of the UK variant of the virus. In fact, 15% of last week’s cases were found through rapid testing, while 8% of them were cases of the UK variant of the virus.
Results in Scotland also showed that those who took one dose of Astra Zeneca, the efficacy rate is 94% for serious illness from the virus – including the variant. This shows that the vaccines work, Fearne said.
Yesterday, he said, it was suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine can be used on people who are 65 years old as opposed to just 55 years old.
By the beginning of next week, invitations will start being sent to those who are between 75 to 80 years old.
Inoculation for this cohort will start on 8th March. The invitations will be sent in a staggered manner, Fearne said, as this is a large cohort.
As from this week, personal general practicioners will also be able to vaccinate people as well, and those doctors who wish to be a part of this drive can apply with the Ministry, Fearne announced.
He also revealed that a number of vaccination centres will be opened across the country. Apart from the University of Malta which has just opened as a vaccination centre, another three will be opened: one will be situated in the south of Malta, one next to Ta’ Qali, and another in Gozo.
Asked by The Malta Independent about a complaint by the MUMN president Paul Pace, who told this newsroom that nurses were not being given enough vaccine doses in clinics and hence were remaining idle, Fearne said that this was due to how the vaccine was distributed to them.
“When certain cohorts were almost finished, there was an extra amount of nurses. We are trying our best to use all the vaccines we have in an efficient way”, Fearne said.
He was also asked if the government will publish how it is planning the relaxation of measures in phases, as the UK have done.
“This is something we have been trying to do since the beginning of the pandemic. We are currently discussing with our colleagues and other ministries to see what is projected to happen in terms of vaccinations and variants so that we can start opening our economy and reviving our social life”, Fearne replied.
Regarding the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which could be approved by the European Medicines Agency by mid-March, Fearne said that generally the Health authorities would only know how much they will receive “week by week, month by month”.
As of Tuesday, 68,779 doses of the vaccine had been administered. 21,767 people had received both doses.