Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci has defended Malta’s strict border controls but says health authorities decided to amend a controversial hotel quarantine rule after listening to the concerns of residents.
Gauci said the proportion of imported COVID-19 cases dropped from 60 per cent in July to 10 per cent this month due to rules such as mandatory vaccinttion and a travel ban on countries on a dark red list.
Health Minister Chris Fearne is due to announce changes to the rule that currently forces everyone arriving from the dark red zone, including residents, to pay up to €1,400 to quarantine in a designated hotel.
There are over 150 countries and regions on the 'dark red' list.
“We listen to people and we are seeing that people who are coming from dark red zones are not disputing the need for quarantine but they say that we are reliable people and we will stay at home,” Gauci said during Times of Malta’s Ask Charmaine programme.
“There will be circumstances as will be announced later but what we will require is that people will be responsible, that they will be reliable and our enforcement will make sure that that will happen.”
She explained her decision to allow Malta's national football team to avoid quarantine when returning from Russia, which is on the dark red list.
The footballers followed a strict UEFA protocol including travelling on a charter flight, sticking in a bubble with fully vaccinated people and abiding by a strict testing regimen.
"When you have other people going from dark red countries, the risk of having met other people who are positive is larger than in that situation," she said.
Gauci also warned people to be careful when comparing Malta's situation to other countries.
"We are an island, so we can control the incoming peole more... and also we have one main state hospital, which we really need to protect."
She said the focus on protecting Mater Dei's ability to cope with its caseload meant that there has always been beds available in the intensive treatment unit for COVID-19 patients.
Describing Malta's current COVID-19 situation as "stable", she said clusters of cases in several homes for the elderly were quickly targeted with a strategy of containing cases and giving booster doses to residents.
While health authorities no longer publish the number of tests carried out every day, she said the positivity rate is low at 1.3 per cent.
On Tuesday there were almost 4,000 tests carried out, demonstrating that people in Malta continue to get tested in high numbers.
Answering questions from readers ahead of the new school term, Gauci encouraged parents to vaccinated their children aged over 12.
As well as leading to fewer cases, vaccinated people can benefit from a reduced quarantine period which "reduces the burden on losses in education and on parents who need to go to work."
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