After a long, four-month lockdown during the pandemic, on July 1, residents were finally able to step out of their elderly homes to give their loved ones a proper hug and enjoy some time with family members.

It was lovely to see the smiles on their happy faces on such an important, much-awaited and much-deserved day. Quite a few residents fearlessly left residential homes very early in the morning on their scooters, either to go buy the newspaper or to simply chat to a friend they hadn’t seen in a long time.

Grace Alty, who feeds the cats at the Mellieha Home, went out early in the morning to say hello after such a long time of not being able to see them.

Other residents who still ventured out but remained within their home’s grounds, still felt as free as a bird. The fact that they could just walk out and breathe the fresh air filled them with positivity.

Rosalia Bonnici, 95, a resident at the Mellieha Home (below, left), went out for the day with her six children and four grandchildren. “We were a bunch of 25 happy people for lunch at my son’s restaurant,” she said.

“At least, if I die now, I would die a happy person, knowing that I’ve seen everyone.”

Ms Bonnici, nee Giglio, of Valletta, looked her very best, having just had her hair done. Her children and grandchildren, who picked her up, were ecstatic to see her after such a long time.

“I really enjoyed the day. It was such a beautiful get-together.”

Tony Debono and Charles Mifsud (below, right), who are best friends, stepped out of the home only to sit and have a good, long chat on their favourite bench.

“We feel so much better now that we can venture out,” said Mr Debono, who couldn’t wait to see his sisters and brother.

Another Mellieha Home resident, Frans Camilleri, came out with a broad smile on his face, ready to face the day. “We obeyed the rules when we couldn’t go out. Now that we can, I just couldn’t wait to go out for my daily walk. It feels so good to be out and about,” said the 95-year-old resident, who also attended Mass and stopped by the pharmacy.

“I don’t like to be idle. I wash my own clothes and sort out my pills myself. I’m still very independent.”

Karmenu Cassar, 84, of Qormi, a resident at Casa San Paolo, went out early in the morning on his scooter. His wife, Maria Lourdes, who accompanied him on her own scooter, had been wanting to go by the beach for a long time. “After such a long time inside, I found it hard to recognise people. Darkness was all I could see.”

Another resident at Casa San Paolo couldn’t sleep the night before July 1, saying he felt like he was reborn. “These past four months were tough for me, as I’m a person who loves the outdoors. People who are not as vulnerable as we are cannot emphathise with how we felt during the lockdown. You have to be an older person to understand,” he said.

“I went to Birkirkara, met some friends, one of whom is a mechanic, and enjoyed a cup of tea together. I then headed to Marsascala, walked for a while on the promenade, stopped by bus in Mosta for an errand and then headed back ‘home’.”

Having wasted so much energy outdoors on July 1, the 74-year-old resident felt exhausted on his return.

Francis and Alfreda Galea left Casa San Paolo together early on July 1. “I walked, while my wife rode the scooter. We went to our house, where we did some work, like cleaning and pulling out the weeds from the garden. Then, on the way back, we stopped for lunch and a coffee. We arrived back at 8pm.”

Maria Axiaq, 89, who is currently busy decorating the chapel at Casa San Paolo, went out with her daughter. “I felt so relieved to be out. We heard Mass and went shopping together. Having woken up extremely early, I went back early for a nap.”

Henry Tonna, a resident at Villa Messina, woke up early on July 1, went to the bank, then to his daughter’s house in Rabat, where he hugged his two grandchildren.

“Being able to run my errands again was such a good feeling.”

Salvinu Muscat went to his house together with his wife Beatrice. There they had lunch with their son and daughter, who lives in the US but was stranded in Malta a day before the airport closed.

“We had lunch, then rested and went back to Villa Messina for dinner. I felt a little disoriented after all this time inside, but it’s great to finally be able to go out.”

Martha Grixti, 89, and her sister Mary Saliba, 85, both looked forward to going out on July 1. Mrs Grixti, who has six children, 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, enjoyed a splendid day with all the family, saying she came back “feeling revived and younger than before”.

Her sister, who has three boys, was picked up by car and taken to her house in Rabat. “Even though I really felt like giving my sons a good hug, I was scared. While believing that it’s still very important to stay safe, being able to see them up close and personal was different joy altogether.”