Malta eases ban on unvaccinated travellers, imposes quarantine


Malta has eased an outright ban on unvaccinated travellers entering the country, instead requiring that they undergo mandatory quarantine on arrival.

The compromise comes hours before the new restrictions were due to come in to force and follows criticism from the European Commission that they were discriminatory.

A legal notice confirming the tweak was published on Tuesday evening.

It clarifies that unvaccinated arrivals from amber-list countries, which include all EU states, can enter the country but must "submit themselves to a period of quarantine".

It also exempts children aged under 12 and those who cannot take the vaccine for medical reasons from having to produce a certificate or quarantine. They must instead show a negative PCR test performed no longer than 72 hours before arrival.

Following talks with Prime Minister Robert Abela during a short visit to Malta, Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton told journalists he was confident the government would be able to "adapt" the restrictions.

It is understood that those who have to go to quarantine will need to go to a hotel designated as such at their own expense.

The measure is expected to also apply to Maltese travellers who have not been vaccinated. It does not apply to those who had booked their flights before the measure was announced last Friday.

Health Minister Chris Fearne announced last week that only those in possession of a valid recognised vaccine certificate would be permitted to travel to Malta as of July 14. Exceptions would only be made for children under 12 and those allowed to travel after getting authorisation from the Superintendent of Public Health.

However, the Commission on Monday raised concerns about the outright ban being disproportionate.

Breton acknowledged that member states are within their rights to apply a so-called 'emergency brake' on public health grounds in certain situations, such as the emergence of the more infectious Delta variant.

The commissioner, who is the EU's vaccine task force chief, said a quarantine period is a "possibility" for those who are not vaccinated.

Breton heaped praise on Malta's vaccination campaign.

"It is a tremendous achievement. This is the best country in terms of vaccination," he said.

The spike in COVID cases continued on Tuesday, with 154 new cases.

Speaking during a press conference earlier on Tuesday, Fearne defended the decision to enforce vaccination for travellers, saying that while the vast majority of Maltese were now vaccinated, it was important to ensure that those who entered the country were similarly protected.

No further restrictions are being contemplated at this stage, the minister said in response to questions, and measures would not be tightened for as long as the number of hospital patients remained low.