Malta will not be mimicking other countries in lifting virus restrictions as its status as a world leader in vaccine rollout means it cannot learn from others’ mistakes, Health Minister Chris Fearne has said.
Speaking in parliament, Fearne said that Malta was showing itself to be a world leader in terms of COVID-19 vaccine rollout. However positive this was, he said, it also meant that Malta could not follow any other country’s example in the lifting of the virus restrictions and it had to be careful not to make its own mistakes.
Fearne said the only country that was close to Malta in terms of the vaccination programme was the UK, but one could see how the Delta variant was causing problems, with a rapid rise of new cases in some areas.
The lifting of COVID-19 measures needed to be gradual, cautious and well-studied, he said.
Action had to be taken in small steps, with each impact evaluated before the next step. In this way, any possible setback was small rather than major.
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60% of adults fully vaccinated
The health minister said another vaccination milestone would be reached in the coming 24 hours, when 60 per cent of the adult population will have been fully vaccinated. A total of 72 per cent have received a first vaccination dose so far.
Vaccination is currently open to anyone aged 16 and over, with plans to extend the rollout to children aged 12 and over at the end of this month.
When the entire population, including children ineligible for a vaccine, are factored into calculations, Malta had fully vaccinated 50 per cent of its population as of Sunday.
Fearne said that plans to ease mask rules for fully vaccinated persons as of July 1 remained on track. The rules will allow a vaccinated person to ditch their mask when outdoors and in the company of another fully vaccinated person.
Vaccines were working, he said, but one needed to be careful of new virus variants while also studying the duration of the immunity given by the vaccines. In any case, the health authorities had made arrangements for boosters for this year, next year and even the year after, if needed.
In his remarks, made during parliament’s debate on the financial estimates of the Occupational Health and Safety Authority, Fearne paid tribute to medical workers on the frontline of the battle against COVID-19.
It had been a stressful time for them as case numbers rose and they saw reports of how hospitals abroad were overwhelmed and health workers fell victim, he said.
Fortunately, Malta had been well prepared in terms of protective gear, beds, and equipment but there was no doubting the stress, especially before vaccines were available. The toll in terms of mental health was still being calculated in Malta and abroad but there was no doubt that there had been an increase. Talks are being held with the trade unions for the organisation of mental wellness workshops.
Shadow Minister for Health Stephen Spiteri also underlined the importance of virus measures being lifted gradually and cautiously. Everyone, he stressed, needed to act responsibly. He also stressed the need to better safeguard frontline medical workers and to reward them for their work.
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