Malta will be in breach of European Commission travel rules if it cuts the expiry date of COVID-19 certificates for second doses to three months, as the government plans to do later this month.

Rules covering the country's vaccine certificates are set to change on January 17. The certificate will be considered expired once three months from the second dose have passed or nine months from the booster dose. 

But in comments to Times of Malta, a European Commission spokesperson said under new EU rules that came into force on December 21, "member states must accept any vaccination certificate that has been issued less than nine months since the administration of the last dose of the primary vaccination".

This rule only applies to travel. Member states are still allowed to make up their own rules for domestic purposes such as access to bars, restaurants, and so on, meaning Malta could still opt for the three-month window for local activities. 

Member states cannot provide for a shorter nor for a longer acceptance period for travel purposes, the commission spokesperson said. 

"We understand that Malta will be applying new measures as of January 17 regarding the validity of the vaccination certificate and we are in touch with the Maltese authorities to seek clarifications."

The legal notice underpinning Malta's new rules has yet to be published, despite the Health Minister announcing them before Christmas. On Thursday, public health chief Charmaine Gauci said the new rules will be unveiled next week. 

 The European Commission rules come into force on February 1. 

"For the time being, no standard acceptance period has been set at EU level for vaccination certificates issued following the administration of booster doses, given there isn’t yet sufficient data regarding the period of protection after the administration of a booster," the spokesperson said. 

"However, given the emerging data, it can reasonably be expected that protection from booster vaccinations may last longer than that resulting from the primary vaccination series. The Commission will closely monitor the newly emerging scientific evidence and may review its approach on this basis.  

"To reduce divergence and confusion for travellers, member states are invited to align their rules for the domestic use of vaccination certificates with the 270 days standard acceptance period applicable in the context of travel," the spokesperson said. 

It is not the first time Malta's radical travel rules have raised concerns in Brussels.

Back in July, when the country announced a ban on non-vaccinated travellers, European Commissioner spokesperson Christian Wigand said it could be discriminatory

The health ministry later softened the ban - allowing unvaccinated travellers to enter Malta but only if they quarantined for 14 days. 

Questions sent to the health ministry on the matter have remained unanswered. 

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