Bars and restaurants can choose to start restricting entrance to COVID-19 vaccine certificate holders as of October 9.
Establishments that choose to restrict access to vaccinated people will also benefit from eased restrictions, Health Minister Chris Fearne announced on Tuesday.
Rules for such establishments, including social clubs (każini) will be eased as follows:
- Maximum of eight people at a table (up from six)
- Tables that are 1.5m apart (down from 2m)
- Opening hours extended to 3am (from 2am)
- Customers served at bars with Perspex (not just table service)
- Louder music that goes up to 80 decibels
Establishments will be able to apply for certification to restrict access to certificate holders as of Wednesday. All staff members must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for an establishment to be granted certification.
Bar and restaurant owners can choose not to restrict access to vaccinated customers: in such cases, they must continue to open in line with existing health protocols.
Random inspections will be carried out to ensure that only certified customers are allowed into restricted establishments, Fearne said, saying that the authorities had consulted various stakeholders and unions before announcing the rules.
The decision to allow establishments to restrict entry to vaccine certificate holders follows similar measures introduced in other European countries such as Italy or France.
Fearne had previously indicated that Malta would not introduce such measures, saying in July that the country’s high vaccination rate – over 90 per cent of eligible people are fully vaccinated – meant that such incentives would not be necessary.
Fearne was speaking during a press conference to announce the opening of a new community health centre in Valletta.
The facility, which shares part of the local council premises, will offer the services of a doctor, nurse, as well as specialised services covering diabetes, speech and language pathology, a podiatrist, and blood work.
'Schools masks are effective'
Referring to a recent report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Fearne defended the policy of enforcing mask-wearing in schools.
A petition urging authorities to allow primary school children to do without masks received more than 1,500 signatures earlier this month.
But Fearne stuck by the policy. The ECDC, he said, has found that in schools that insist students wear masks there is less than half the COVID transmission rate of those schools without mandatory masks.
"Masks are still important and are here to stay in schools for now," he said.
Flu season is coming
Fearne also gave details of the government's plans to combat the onset of flu season.
He said the nationwide flu jab roll-out will be "intense".
"We are working on the logistics. It will be difficult during a pandemic," he said.
The health authorities are planning to have facilities dedicated to the provision of COVID-19 booster shots, while other sites will only give out regular flu jabs.
Roll-out of flu vaccines is expected to begin in the third week of October, with around 200,000 doses of that vaccine on order.
There will be no need for patients who have recently received a COVID-19 booster jab to wait before receiving a flu vaccine.
Speaking on Tuesday, Fearne said that if the need for boosters persists, international authorities are already looking into the possibility of having a combined jab that will cover both the regular flu and act as a COVID booster.
In this year's flu jab roll-out, young children will be given a spray rather than an injection, which Fearne said is more attractive for youngsters.