Prime Minister Robert Abela has announced the extension of several measures and some new measures for the month of February, a lot of which target an expected influx of people going to Gozo over the carnival period.
Amongst the new measures, Abela said that Gozo Channel vessels will run at half-capacity in order to send the message that while Gozo is open, it is not the same atmosphere as there is usually during this period.
All restaurants meanwhile will also now have to close at 11pm.
Meanwhile, the Malta Tourism Authority will also be running more checks on accommodation places to make sure that they are adhering to the stipulations on their licenses – particularly on how many people they can host.
A number of other measures, such as the closure of bars and clubs, and restrictions on snack bars, have also been extended.
Adressing the press conference, Abela said that he has been clear about the pandemic from the get-go: that dealing with a pandemic is a marathon which we must deal with day by day in such a manner that would preserve lives and livelihoods.
He said that this is a very particular moment – a moment where we are close to normality owing to the vaccination programme which is now ongoing and which Malta is in the lead on. He reiterated yesterday’s announcement that 14,000 Pfizer vaccines arrived in the country on Monday, and that the government had green-lit the purchase of another 80,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
However, he said, we are in a period where we need to react with responsibility. He said that February is a very particular month – one which sees increased gatherings due to carnival and post-exam periods.
He appealed for responsibility from families and from businesses, saying that we cannot stop following restrictions now.
Abela announced a number of measures for February:
– All mass events related to Carnival have been cancelled.
– Restaurants will continue to close at 11pm, the closure of bars and clubs will be extended to the end of February, and restrictions related to snack bars will also be extended till the end of February.
– Between 11 and 17 February, temperature checks will be taken on all Gozo channel vessels.
– Passengers going onto the Gozo Channel vessels must remain in their cars for the duration of the trip.
– Gozo Channel vessels will run at half capacity, sending the clear signal that while Gozo is not closed, it is not the same atmosphere as usual.
– LESA officials will be onboard the vessels to enforce social distancing and mask wearing.
– There will be added patrols in Rabat (Gozo), Nadur, Marsalforn, and Xlendi, while Transport Malta will also be patrolling other localities.
– The Malta Tourism Authority will be inspecting accommodation places to make sure that they adhere to the parameters set out in their licenses, especially with regards to the number of people inside the places. Accommodation places can only host as many people as they have beds specified on their license.
Abela also announced that the aid being given to bars and clubs will double from €1 million to €2.2 million. Details on this will be given by Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo by the end of this week, Abela said.
Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne said that “the vaccination process is moving along the same lines as we initially planned.”
He also confirmed that all vulnerable people will be vaccinated by May.
He also spoke about the UK variant which also found its way in Malta, but played down any worry that it the reason for the increase in cases lately.
“From our analysis, the variant is not that responsible for the increase in number and probably it is the product of what happened what happened in Christmas and New Year,” he said.
The Deputy Prime Minister said that some restaurants were still operating like bars.
“Although we closed bars and kazini, there are some restaurants which were operating like bars. The measure that we are announcing today is that restaurants close at 11pm. The message is clear: you go to restaurants only to eat.”
Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci noted that the measures are being introduced accordingly in order to curb the spread of the virus based on the data they have. “We always based our actions and measures according to what science was telling us. We are always looking at the scenario as to when the virus is transmitting more. This also includes mitigation measures, such as those announced today,” she said.
Gauci also noted that clusters which were from gatherings caused a significant rise in cases.
“The majority of cases were due to clusters which were gathering due to festive events, like the upcoming carnival one. That is why such measures are important.”
“When compared to other countries, Malta is like heaven,” the Prime Minister said.
Asked about when adults and teenagers who are vulnerable will be receiving the vaccine, the Deputy Prime Minister clarified that they are next in line after all 80 year olds who want to take the vaccine are inoculated.
“The next cohort are those over 70 and all those vulnerable, we are speaking a matter of weeks,” he said.
The Prime Minister also noted that he doesn’t believe that enforcement is not happening.
“I don’t agree that there was ineffective enforcement. Restaurants did not have limitation of time in terms of when they should close. It is simply not prudent to have people drinking at a restaurant after eating. We are simply saying that we are going to increase enforcement,” he said.
For just one weekend, we have to make a sacrifice. And I appeal to all stakeholders to make a sacrifice.”
The Deputy Prime Minister was also asked how many doses of AstraZeneca we will be receiving.
“If AstraZeneca comes, we can carry forward these timelines. But all the timelines that we mentioned in terms of having herd immunity by September were based on the doses we have of Pfizer and Moderna – not on AstraZeneca,” he said.
“If more vaccines get approved, the timelines for vaccination will move forward.”
Asked by The Malta Independent about rumours of crowds gathering in Paceville, the Prime Minister that the enforcement is working.
“The enforcement is effective. This is why we are implementing these measures today as we cannot afford to let what happened in Christmas and New Year to take place again during Carnival weekend,” the Prime Minister said.
“We cannot afford it. I appeal again for the public to shoulder responsibility. I appeal to them to continue to cooperate. Particularly in that carnival weekend, it is crucial that we stay responsible,” he emphasised.
This newsroom also inquired with the Deputy Prime Minister how many vaccines Malta will have in total.
“As you know, we have 670,000 doses of Pfizer doses ordered and 100,000 of Moderna vaccines ordered. We are also working to obtain 80,000 more of Moderna vaccines and we are trying to push so we can increase them to have 170,000 more,” he noted.
“So in total, with Moderna and Pfizer only, we will have 940,000 doses for the whole population. When you split these in two – as people require two doses – as well as take into consideration that no vaccine is licenced to inoculate people less than 16 years old, this means that with Pfizer and Moderna only we will have enough to inoculate the whole population.”
Photos by Giuseppe Attard