Higher fines, new COVID measures may be implemented in coming days

Fearne said that new measures may be implemented in the coming days if needed, following discussions with healthcare workers

New COVID-19 measures, and higher fines for those breaching them, may be implemented over the coming days if deemed necessary by authorities. 

Health Minister Chris Fearne announced this during a parliamentary address, fielding criticisms from the Nationalist Party benches of Malta's COVID-19 and vaccination strategy.

He warned that, for the next weeks or months, people must remain disciplined in terms of preventive measures, while government must make sure that measures are being observed and enforced.

Fearne acknowledged the rising number of COVID cases, which for the first time since the start of the outbreak, exceeded 300 overnight cases today.

However, he said that government's vaccine strategy will be the line of attack by which virus spread can be mitigated. He explained that the Astrazeneca vaccine is being used primarily to inoculate frontliners, as initial health guidelines found the vaccine to be safe for those below 55 years of age.

While half of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine doses are reserved with each consignment, so as to ensure that a second dose is available after the 21-28 waiting period between jabs, government has opted to distribute all Astrazeneca vaccines straight away upon arrival, given the two-month gap.

He further squashed any rumours that the contact-tracing team has fallen behind, saying that at most, the sudden rise resulted in a two or three-day delay.

This was done in reaction to Bernard Grech's statement earlier in the sitting, during which he brought out a quarantine letter dated 1 March, requiring the person to quarantine from 24 February.

"This person could have spent five days infecting everyone they met," he said.

Grech even commented on a lack of transparency in vaccine distribution, and how people think that some individuals are receiving the jab before they are actually entitled to. 

Fearne was quick to rubbish the claim, even claiming that an Opposition MP personally asked the Minister to jump the vaccine queue.

Prime Minister Robert Abela also fired back at claims by the Opposition over the struggling contact-tracing team.

"It's easy for you to say that they failed," he said. "Let's support the work of health authorities, who have spent a year under pressure to protect our health."

Abela described a recent Council of Europe meeting, where EU leaders discussed a coordinated approach to travel post-COVID. He said that there was talk of a potential vaccine passport, but given the divergence of opinions raised, will be discussed again in the next meeting this month. 

"We agree that all non-essential travel needs to be discouraged for now, while making sure not to add any challenges for commerce."