VALLETTA (Reuters) – Malta will start a gradual easing of COVID-19 curbs this month, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Wednesday, as the country forges ahead with vaccinations at a much faster rate than elsewhere in the European Union.
Abela told reporters schools would reopen on Monday and the government will consider reopening restaurants and non-essential shops on April 26. Masses will resume in churches on April 18.
“Restrictions will be eased gradually, but children cannot afford to lose more of their education experience in the classroom,” Abela said.
Schools and restaurants on the small Mediterranean island were closed early in March following a spike in virus cases blamed on the so-called British variant.
But a high of 510 new virus cases in a population of 500,000 on March 10 has declined to an average of 54 new cases daily in the past two weeks. Some 400 people have died of the virus to date.
Abela said Malta planned to reopen its crucial tourism sector on June 1. “We will promote ourselves as one of the safest tourism destinations,” he said.
Health Minister Chris Fearne said 42% of adults in Malta have now had at least one vaccine shot. According to latest Reuters data, no other EU state has come close to matching Malta’s figures, with second-placed Hungary on 24%.
Malta is using a mix of Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca shots and unlike many other EU countries, it exercised options to buy as many of the various jabs as it could.
Fearne said that 95 percent of those aged over 80 have now been vaccinated, along with 86 per cent of those aged over 70 and 78 percent of those aged over 60. Some 86 percent of teachers have also been vaccinated.
With pressure on the health service decreasing, elective surgeries, which had been postponed, will now be resumed at the state hospital, Fearne said.
(Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer, William Maclean)