[WATCH] Omicron variant detected in Malta, from Monday only seated events allowed

New COVID-19 measures: all events must be seated, 1am curfew introduced as from next Monday, from 17 January vaccine certificate is needed to enter a range of establishments 

Health Minister Chris Fearne (centre) flanked by virologist Chris Barbara (left) and Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci
Health Minister Chris Fearne (centre) flanked by virologist Chris Barbara (left) and Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci

New measures from Monday 27 December

  • All organised standing events have to be seated
  • Funerals and weddings to continue with existing protocols
  • Establishments have to close at 1am
  • Sports events can continue, but without spectators
  • Reduction in visiting hours at Mater Dei Hospital

Omicron variant detected 

The Omicron variant has been detected in Malta, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Thursday.

Fearne said two cases of the variant had been detected in the country, stating the rise in cases could be related to it.

He insisted the booster vaccine is effective against the Omicron variant. “The booster will be the basis for the work we will be carrying out in the coming weeks and months.”

182,000 people have already received the booster vaccine, and so 41% of Maltese and Gozitan residents have been boosted. 

The minister said 53 people are now receiving treatment in Mater Dei Hospital, with three in the ITU. He said that while case numbers are high, the number of people in the hospital remains stable.

As of next Monday, people aged 18 and over will be able to register for the booster vaccine.

Fearne also said that as of 17 January, bars, snack bars, gyms, pools and spas, band clubs, cinemas, theatres and sporting events will only be accessible to people with a valid vaccine certificate.

Key takeaways

  • Two Omicron cases were detected in Malta
  • The importance of vaccine booster dose uptake emphasised
  • 41% of adults so far have received a booster dose
  • From Monday 27 December booster dose registration opens for all over 18
  • Booster dose not yet indicated for children between 12 and 16
  • From Monday 17 January vaccine certificate will take the booster dose into account. 
  • The vaccine certificate will only be valid for three months after the second dose or nine months after the booster
  • From 17 January, bars, snack bars, restaurants, kazini, gyms, pools, spas, casinos, gaming parlours, cinemas, theatres, sporting events and organised events only accessible to people with valid vaccine certificates
  • Target is to have invited all children between 5 and 11 to receive their first vaccine dose by the end of the holidays
  • The intention is to reopen schools after the holidays

More on the COVID-19 cases

Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci said the seven-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases was 392.

7,000 swab tests were carried out on Wednesday alone, Gauci said. 

Gauci explained that 23% related to social activities as well as a high number from home gatherings.

The superintendent also revealed that  6,500 people are currently in quarantine, including people who tested positive, contacts, and people who came from red zone countries. 

Gauci also said that if hospital admissions increased a 100 bed's could be made available at Boffa hospital and that arrangements were in place for the use of private hospitals. 

Home testing kits

Fearne warned against testing for COVID-19 at home, as Malta has seen a rise in test kits being ordered from the internet. The health minister said they are not reliable, and people might end up receiving a positive result despite not having COVID-19.

COVID-19 booster after a positive diagnosis 

Gauci said that people who tested positive for the virus should wait four weeks before taking the COVID-19 booster dose. 

Fearne said that those with symptoms are being given priority for testing after being asked about people experiencing long wait times to get tested. 

Nationalist Party reacts

Reacting to the announcement of new measures, the PN said it joins health authorities in calling for people to continue taking the vaccine and booster.

“The Nationalist Party stresses the Government should be more efficient and focused in these challenging times for the health sector,” the statement read.

It said that it is shameful that “Robert Abela’s leadership weakness in dealing with his parliamentary group” are preventing him from “focusing properly” on his job.

“Many experts have been calling on the government for days to take action and not neglect public health,” it said. “This is a government that despite the challenges facing the sector continues to defend a corrupt deal with Steward, so much so that Chris Fearne continued to defend the contract at the press conference.”