The European country with the highest COVID vaccination rate has reported no new cases for the first time in nearly a year.
Malta, the central Mediterranean island that sits between Sicily and the north African coast, has given a first COVID vaccine dose to 74% of its population of 500,000 – the most of any European country, according to experts at the Our World in Data project at Oxford University.
In addition, as of 6 June, 53% of its population have had the second vaccine – the second-fastest rate in Europe behind only the microstate of San Marino.
And, on Monday, after restricting new infections to single figures for weeks, Malta registered zero new cases for the first time since 25 July 2020.
Despite the landmark moment, Malta’s health minister has urged people to remain careful to prevent any resurgence.
Chris Fearne wrote on Twitter: "Today is the first day with zero cases since last summer. It is essential that we maintain discipline and responsibility."
On 24 May, Malta announced it had become the first European Union country to achieve so-called herd immunity after vaccinating 70% of its adult population with at least one COVID-19 shot.
How open is Malta?
Museums and tourist sites, non-essential shops and services such as hairdressers reopened on 26 April in Malta, while celebration of Mass is allowed and schools are open.
Restaurants and snack bars are open but there is a limit of 6 people per table. Cinemas and theatres are also reopen.
Watch: Coronavirus vaccines in numbers: 40,333,231 receive first jab
Bars, discos and nightclubs are closed and boat parties are not allowed. Groups in public places are limited to four people unless from the same household. Masks are mandatory in all public spaces, indoor and outdoor (under 3s are exempt). Fines will be levied for non- compliance.
From 1 July a maximum of 2 people may remove their masks in outside public spaces if they have been vaccinated and they have an official vaccination certificate. Currently, only Maltese issued certificates will be accepted as proof of vaccination.
While Malta has followed a similar trend to the UK in terms of infections (see the first chart below) its death rate has remained below that of the UK throughout the majority of the pandemic (see the second chart below).
The UK is currently third in Europe for the highest vaccination rate – after Malta and San Marino – with 59.41% of its population having received a first vaccine dose.
But the English government is now facing a decision over whether the latest lifting of lockdown restrictions should go ahead on 21 June in line with Boris Johnson’s roadmap.
The spread of the Delta variant of the virus has sparked concerns over the risks of removing the remaining COVID measures too soon.
Watch: COVID-19: Vaccines have 'broken the chain' between coronavirus and serious illness