Last Updated on Thursday, 27 January, 2022 at 11:29 am by Andre Camilleri
Malta’s vaccine certificate rules will be relaxed in the first half of February for a number of establishments, Health Minister Chris Fearne announced in Parliament on Tuesday.
February, a valid vaccine certificate would no longer be obligatory for entry into restaurants, snack bars, and kazini. As well, as from the following week, on 14 February, a valid vaccine certificate will no longer be required for entry into bars, gyms, pools, spas, cinemas, and theatres. A valid certificate will remain necessary, even after 14 February, for entry into organised events, sporting events, games halls and casinos, nightclubs, and for travelling abroad. A vaccine certificate is deemed valid either if less than three months have elapsed since a person’s second dose, or if less than nine months have elapsed since a person’s booster dose. Fearne said that this is the first part of the government’s “exit roadmap”, which is only possible because of the high uptake of vaccine booster doses – which stands at 75% of Malta’s adult population.
Turning to the government’s stance on quarantine periods for primary contacts, Fearne provided data that supported the government’s decision to retain the mandatory quarantine period for primary contacts of a positive case to seven days. He said that 15% of primary contacts in recent weeks ended up testing positive for the virus, which would have meant that had the quarantine period not been in place, community transmission of the virus would have increased. The figure now has slowly started decreasing from 15%, Fearne said. This means that by the second half of February, the indications are that the quarantine period can be reduced to five days, as a precursor to it being removed completely. He also said that in the coming days, the government will meet with stakeholders for village feasts and then in the coming weeks decide, based on science, whether village feasts will take place or not. The indications, he said, are good, but it depends on the science.
Malta’s leading business voices weighed in on the topic.
Marisa Xuereb, President of Malta Chamber of Commerce
“It is evident that the relatively mild clinical symptoms of the Omicron variant coupled with the relatively high rate of vaccination are being relied upon in withdrawing the requirement for a vaccine certificate to access catering and entertainment establishments. This relieves these establishments from a burden that was poorly assessed by the authorities at the onset and that they were clearly ill-equipped to manage.
The success in reducing active cases in a relatively short time and maintaining a low number of critical cases throughout this Omicron wave should first and foremost motivate further reduction in the length of mandatory self-isolation for asymptomatic positive cases, and the gradual removal of quarantine periods for vaccinated contacts. The impact of superfluous quarantine periods on the economy and social life is highly disruptive and impacts activity in catering and entertainment establishments as well as all other places of employment. We cannot return to normality while quarantines still apply.
At this juncture, it is important for public health authorities to ensure that the exit strategy is implemented in a reasoned, consistent and transparent manner, such that public trust in vaccinations and in the ability of the authorities to respond proportionately to circumstances and to strike a fair balance between competing claims is not undermined. While it is hoped that the transition of Covid-19 from pandemic to endemic status is imminent, we must be mindful that vaccination rates are still very low in various parts of the world and the Omicron variant moved much faster than anyone anticipated.”
Reuben Buttigieg, President, Association of Catering Establishments (ACE)
“The easing of the vaccination certification measurements for restaurants is welcome news and one we have been lobbying for since its introduction. The hospitality and catering industry was already dealt a huge blow with the pandemic, and such restrictions added to the strain felt by many. Logistically speaking, a huge number of restaurants were finding it difficult to operate. For example, an employee may be vaccinated from a fellow European country such as Hungary- but they do not have a locally accepted vaccination, such as Sputnik. But, we need to see what’s going to happen with tourism, especially regarding the validity and shelf life of vaccination certificates, as to date, the government has not made a revision on those decisions. We need to know when we have reached herd immunity or are anticipated to do so and further clarifications for the hospitality sector. When will mask-wearing be eased off? When will all tables resume regular distance? There are still many questions that require answering.”
Abigail Agius Mamo, CEO, Malta Chamber of SME’s
“We welcome the news regarding relaxation of measures as the previous system just wasn’t workable, so this has eased a huge burden on many businesses. However, we remain with the concerns we have raised in the last few weeks relating to quarantine periods. We believe there should be one quarantine time frame for all positive cases to avoid confusion and negatively impact business operations. In many other countries, we are seeing a time frame of 5-7 days, as recommended by global health bodies, yet locally nothing has changed.”
Tony Zahra, President, Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA)
“This news is a step in the right direction. However, we need to move forwards in removing all restrictions. It’s clear the pandemic has now become endemic, and it’s something we have to learn to live with.”