The ditching of masks outdoors on Thursday overshadowed another milestone in the COVID-19 saga – the introduction of an EU-wide certificate aimed at facilitating travel between member states.
It can be issued if a citizen has been vaccinated, has had a negative PCR test or has recently recovered from COVID-19.
In principle, anyone who has the EU’s digital COVID certificate (EUDCC) that shows they are fully vaccinated should be exempt from testing or quarantining across the bloc.
Here’s what it means for Maltese nationals and residents.
I have a Maltese vaccine certificate. Is that the same thing?
No. Malta introduced its own vaccine certificate in June to facilitate travel into the country, for visits to the elderly, to ease mask rules and to restart some events.
Anyone who downloaded their certificate last month will only have this document. They will have to return to the certificate website and re-download it to make sure they also get their copy of the EUDCC.
Those visiting the website after July 1 will be automatically given both.
Can those who are not vaccinated get the EU digital COVID certificate?
In theory, yes but this is not yet the case in Malta. To download either of the two certificates, an individual must be fully vaccinated. If not, the online portal used to download the certificate does not generate the documents.
It remains unclear how those who are not vaccinated will be able to use the EUDCC to present proof they have been tested for COVID-19 and whether the other means of proving negative results, such as text messages, will continue to be accepted abroad.
Questions have been sent to the health ministry as well as the European Commission. Neither had replied at the time of writing.
How does the EU digital COVID certificate work?
Although the member states are responsible for issuing the certificate for their citizens free of charge, all 27 member states are hooked onto the same system that makes it possible for all the certificates to be recognised.
It consists of a QR code (a type of barcode that reveals information when scanned) that verifies if a person has been vaccinated or tested for COVID-19.
In some countries, it also contains information on past COVID-19 infections.
Only vaccines approved by the European Medicines Authority - those made by AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson&Johnson - are accepted. Malta is only administering EMA-approved vaccines.
Will the Maltese authorities accept ‘recoveries’?
Despite the EU stipulating that the certificate is to include details on whether an individual has recovered from COVID-19, Malta has opted against recognising recovery certificates.
A government spokesperson told Times of Malta on Friday that “Malta accepts the vaccine certificate and the test certificate for entry into the island from other EU member states but not the recovery certificate.
“Evidence published to date suggests that reinfection is still possible after initial infection, especially with newer variants.
“This risk is not acceptable for Maltese public health authorities, taking note of the state of the epidemic in Malta being one of the lowest in the EU currently.
“For this purpose, the recovery certificate is not accepted for entry into Malta or for any other purpose for which vaccine certificates can be used in Malta,” she said.
Do I actually need the Maltese and the EU COVID certificate?
While in Malta, either one of the two certificates should be accepted, meaning if stopped by law enforcement officers while out and about without a mask, for instance, an individual can present either to confirm vaccination.
But while abroad, although some countries might decide to recognise the Maltese certificate, it is always recommended to carry the EUDCC since this is recognised across the bloc.