Malta has achieved herd immunity with COVID shots, says minister

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People sit at an outdoor restaurant as restaurants and markets reopened for business after coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccinations reached 60% of the adult population, in Valletta, Malta May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo

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VALLETTA, May 24 (Reuters) - Malta has vaccinated 70% of its adult population with at least one COVID-19 shot, becoming the first European Union country to achieve so-called herd immunity, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Monday.

The tiny Mediterranean island has had an average of three new virus cases each day in the past week, with the test positivity rate at a low of 0.2%. Two new cases were reported on Monday.

"Vaccines are being administered at a rate of one every five seconds," Fearne told a news conference. "Forty-two percent of the adult population has received two doses."

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Vaccination is currently open to all residents of Malta over the age of 16 and Fearne said children aged 12 and over would also be inoculated once European medical authorities give the go-ahead.

He also announced that mandatory wearing of masks outdoors would be lifted on July 1 for vaccinated people as long as virus cases remain low.

The health authorities had earlier announced that mask-wearing would no longer be necessary on beaches from June 1.

On Monday, restrictions on gyms and swimming pools were lifted, while the opening hours of restaurants were extended to midnight. They previously had to close at 5 p.m.

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Reporting by Christopher Scicluna, editing by Gavin Jones nd Nick Macfie

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