The Malta Chamber of SMEs is proposing to do away with quarantine requirements for vaccinated people who come in contact with virus cases and reduce it to five days for those who test positive.
People who have symptoms would have to stay at home until their symptoms clear up and at least 24 hours after they last had a fever. They would not need to get tested before leaving quarantine.
The chamber said it was making these proposals to the government on the basis of recommendations made by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“We have no intention of doing the health authorities’ job. That is not our place,” Chamber CEO Abigail Agius Mamo made clear.
“But quarantine rules have lately been disruptive to a point that goes beyond what our businesses can afford. So, we are calling on the government to consider what the CDC and WHO are recommending.”
On December 27, the CDC recommended shorter isolation periods for people with COVID and those who are exposed to it.
It said given what it currently known about the Omicron variant, people who test positive can come out of isolation after five days and fully vaccinated people who have been in contact with the virus do not need to isolate. Unvaccinated people who come in contact with the virus should quarantine for five days.
“On the other hand, the WHO is warning that we should not let our guard down because Omicron is still spreading dangerously fast, so that is why we are pushing for the local authorities to keep regulating and enforcing quarantine,” Agius Mamo explained.
“We are aware some countries have removed quarantine altogether but we are not suggesting that.”
Agius Mamo said that before the recent Omicron spike, businesses were already struggling to operate due to staffing shortages in particular.
Now that thousands of workers are in quarantine, employers are finding it even harder to keep going.
The chamber acknowledges that the recent easing of quarantine rules was a step in the right direction, but it is also stirring confusion, she said.
“Households are finding it increasingly more complicated to calculate their different quarantine periods, and the lack of official quarantine notices leaves employers with no way of confirming their staff’s quarantine,” Agius Mamo said.
“But if only COVID-positive people are bound to quarantine, employees can justify their absence from work by providing their employers with the positive test result.”
Agius Mamo insisted that the pandemic has not only impacted businesses but has now disturbed the social fabric and mental health, and pushed other concerning health conditions to the side-lines for too long.
More practical ways were needed to live with it.
Last week, during an Ask Charmaine programme on Times of Malta, health superintendent Charmaine Gauci said people who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer be receiving a separate letter informing them about their quarantine period.
Instead, patients must calculate their quarantine period on the basis of their situation, such as whether they had received the booster shot.
The quarantine period has been reduced from 14 to 10 days for those infected with the virus and who have taken the booster jab.
To be allowed out on the 10th day, they must also have been free of COVID symptoms for three days. Primary contacts who are fully vaccinated can exit quarantine if they test negative for the coronavirus after a week from contact.
On Saturday, trade unions and the nurses’ union wrote to Health Minister Chris Fearne demanding clarity on the new quarantine measures and contending that employees were facing several problems in calculating their families’ quarantine periods.
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