Malta’s doctors and nurses believe reducing quarantine periods for infected patients could be risky, especially since the Omicron variant remains highly infectious and data is still considered limited.
Various EU countries continue to slash their quarantine periods, including for those who test positive for the virus, especially as more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The UK, Ireland, Spain and Greece were among the first to reduce the mandatory isolation period at the beginning of the year, with other countries, like Italy and France, introducing similar rules soon after.
Amid mounting public frustration here, employers, especially those in the hospitality industry, are insisting a review of the strict quarantine rules.
Since December, tens of thousands of people have been forced to stay indoors either because they contracted the virus or because they came across COVID-positive people.
Malta’s quarantine rules were last revised in December.
Patients who test positive but who have had the booster dose must only quarantine for 10 days, down from 14.
Those who are considered primary contacts but who test negative for the virus must still isolate for seven days while secondary contacts need not quarantine if they have taken the booster dose.
Those without any doses at all must quarantine for the full 14 days.
'Too early to understand impact of shorter isolation period'
But nurses and doctors who spoke to Times of Malta said that while they acknowledge the hardships that come from having to quarantine, it was too early to say what the impact of shorter isolation periods might be.
“I understand that people working in some sectors who cannot work from home may struggle, but the truth is we don’t yet know what impact these shorter periods will have,” one doctor said.
We all heard of people self-isolating for a few days but not getting tested. That can be very dangerous
“These countries, in particular, might start reporting spikes and we can’t risk that, especially since our hospital gets easily overwhelmed.”
Other hospital staff, who did not wish to be named, made similar observations.
'Refusing to get tested'
One nurse, however, said that a number of people were refusing to get tested because they did not want to isolate for 10 days.
This, she warned, could be more problematic since infected people might be running around in the community potentially making others sick.
“We all heard of people self-isolating for a few days but not getting tested. That can be very dangerous, and I think that’s one reason why the authorities might want to consider opting for shorter isolation periods, especially for those who are asymptomatic,” she said.
Unions back current quarantine
Yet, both the doctors’ association and nurses’ union backed the time-frames currently in place, saying it was too early to rush and reduce the quarantine.
Medical Association of Malta (MAM) head Martin Balzan said that with new virus variants still being discovered, it was better to “err on the side of caution”.
“We are talking about a few days, so it’s better to be safe. Data is lacking because of the ever-changing situation with variants and Omicron is still very contagious,” he said.
While acknowledging the impact that having thousands of people isolating was having on the economy, Balzan said an increase in the spread of the virus could be worse.
The MAM chief explained that with the Omicron variant being so contagious, having a person leave quarantine while still infected could result in several other people getting the virus.
“Hard evidence is lacking… so you get a lot of opinions. Our authorities seem to be erring on the side of caution and yes, this might be hard on the economy, but it’s the better approach,” Balzan said.
Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) chief Paul Pace echoed Balzan’s claims.
He said that most countries had only recently updated their rules and so it was too early to say how they will impact the community.
Pace said there were instances of nurses who continued to test positive for the virus even after the 10th day, noting that having infected people who work with vulnerable patients was too dangerous.
“We cannot risk bringing back people to work, it’s not worth it,” he said.
“You would be taking a big risk. It also depends on the workplaces and the sector and where there are large groups, you need to be careful.
“Take a factory for instance, where hundreds of workers are close to each other for long periods of time, you cannot just have people back after five days. The same goes for those who are employed in hospitals,” Pace added.
Like Balzan, Pace pointed to the ever-changing situation with virus variants and the lack of too much data as a reason to “not rush into changing the rules”.
Quarantine periods for positive patients in other countries
Belgium – 7 days
Spain – 7 days
Italy – 7 days
France – 7 days
Ireland – 7 days
Greece – 5 days
UK – 5 days
Slovenia – 5 days
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