The Maltese health authorities continue to insist polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are the "most reliable" and will continue to deny boarding for travellers presenting the so-called rapid tests when coming to Malta. 

Rules in place for travel to Malta clearly indicate those arriving on the island must either present a vaccine certificate or a negative PCR test. For now, only the Maltese certificate is accepted, meaning all tourists must present test results to be allowed into Malta. 

But the decision to only allow PCR tests – commonly referred to as swab tests – has raised eyebrows especially since the results take longer to be confirmed and other, quicker, tests are also commonly used. 

In recent months, Malta’s health authorities have repeatedly said they accept results from rapid antigen tests as accurate enough and have been including them in daily tallies of new cases. 

Travellers who visited other countries in recent weeks said most places accepted rapid tests as valid, with some countries even allowing travel with results from the less common saline gargle test. 

And guidelines issued by the European Parliament on the newly-approved EU Digital COVID Certificate recognise both the PCR and rapid tests. 

“Tests recognised under the certificate include Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) tests, such as RT-PCR tests and rapid antigen tests,” the guidelines state.

In spite of this, public health chief Charmaine Gauci insisted on Wednesday that for travel purposes, Malta will continue to only accept PCR tests. 

When Times of Malta pointed out that various types of tests are now accepted elsewhere in Europe, Gauci iterated the PCR tests were the gold standard. The authorities wanted to ensure those travelling to the island were not bringing the virus with them, she said.

“We’re trying to make travel as safe as possible. If you look at all the tests available, the PCR test is the most reliable test to identify whether a person is positive or not,” Gauci said. 

On other countries accepting different types of tests, the public health chief said it ultimately “depends on how much risk a country is willing to take”. 

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