Policy responses for Malta - HSRM

Malta


Policy responses for Malta

6. Measures in other sectors

6.1 Measures in other sectors

Many MEASURES IN OTHER SECTORS beyond the immediate scope of the health system are being taken to prevent further spread of the virus. This section contains information on many of these areas, including border and travel restrictions and economic and fiscal measures, among others.

Update 16 September 2020

Schools:
Several discussions were held between the health and education sector and other stakeholders in preparation for the expected re-opening of schools in late September 2020, and public health advice and guidelines published following broad consultations. These include:
  • Advice and Guidelines to the Educational Sector for the Re-opening of Post-Secondary Schools and Institutions in Malta (September 2020)
  • Advice and Guidelines to the Educational Sector for the Re-opening of Kindergartens in Malta (September 2020)Advice and Guidelines for Educational Sector (September 2020)
  • Obligatory Conditions and Guidelines for Examinations (7 August 2020)

Travel:
From the 15th July 2020, the travel ban was lifted for several countries (green list) as listed in
LN 290 of 2020 - Travel Ban (Extension to All Countries) (Amendment No. 4) Order, 2020 (https://www.mta.com.mt/en/COVID-19).

With effect from Saturday 22nd August 2020, in accordance with LN 333 of 2020 - Public Health Act - Mandatory Tests for Certain Travellers Regulations, an 'amber' list of corridor countries is published from week to week from which arriving passengers must produce a negative PCR COVID-19 swab test result, which test must have been taken no longer than 72 hours prior to arrival in Malta.  If a negative test is not presented, a swab test on arrival or a 14-day quarantine period may be required.

Amber countries from which travellers to Malta require proof of negative PCR COVID-19 swab test done within previous 72 hours currently are (https://deputyprimeminister.gov.mt/en/health-promotion/covid-19/Pages/travel.aspx):
- France (all Paris airports and Marseille)
- Romania
- Spain (persons arriving from Barcelona, Girona, Madrid)
- Tunisia
- Czech Republic 

• Border restrictions

From 24th February 2020, any person arriving in Malta has been thermally screened and individuals identified as having a fever taken to a specialised clinic run by the Port Health authority and swabbed for coronavirus. The first cases in a cluster of imported cases of COVID-19 in Malta was detected on 7th March 2020 and subsequently contained.

On 10th March 2020, Catamaran passenger services to and from Sicily were stopped except for the transportation of food and medicines; flights to and from Italy were also suspended. Cruise liners were effectively discouraged from entering Maltese ports following the introduction of a 14-day mandatory quarantine for all incoming tourists/visitors.

On the 11th March, a Travel Ban Order prohibited movement of persons to and from France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, China including Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Iran and South Korea. Mandatory quarantine of 14 days was enforced for all persons arriving in Malta from Italy, China (including Hong Kong), Singapore, Japan, Iran and South Korea from 27th February 2020 onwards.

Repatriation flights were scheduled by the national airline, Air Malta, on the 12th March, to bring back Maltese nationals and residents from countries affected by the travel ban  In view of increasing lockdowns, Maltese nationals currently abroad were urged to make their way to Malta by no later than Sunday 12th April 2020 ( www.covid19malta.info) and tourists planning to leave to do so with immediate effect. A lifeline schedule operated by Air Malta is in operation to facilitate outbound travel for stranded individuals that want to return to their country of origin. All foreign nationals in possession of a valid Maltese residence permit and/or a Maltese valid work permit that want to return to their home country can apply to a voluntary repatriation assistance scheme (www.covid19malta.info – applications https://foreignandeu.gov.mt/apply).  

As of the 21st March 2020, all inbound and outbound passenger flights were suspended following an extension of the Travel Ban to all countries. Exemptions to the total ban include cargo flights, ferry flights, humanitarian flights, and repatriation flights, as well as cargo ships including container ships and roll-on/roll-off vessels carrying goods and essential commodities, and tankers loaded with essential fuels.

• Lock down measures

No specific lockdowns are in place; however no visitors are allowed in hospitals, homes for the elderly, prisons and detention centres.

All primary, secondary, post-secondary and tertiary schools were closed for a week as of the 13th March; however, with increasing cases of local COVID-19 transmission, this closure was extended to June 2020. Examinations have been postponed to September, and alternative and predictive assessment methods will be applied for students in various levels of study allowing them to progress to the next levels of study if a pass is obtained. Online learning will continue at all levels.

With effect from 23rd March 2020, non-essential retail establishments (such as clothes, toys, electronics, and household appliance shops) and services (e.g. hairdressers, beauticians, tattooists and massage parlours) are not allowed to open. Gyms, sport centres, cinemas and theatres have also been closed down. Organised meetings and public events including all cultural, recreational, entertainment, sporting and religious events and exhibitions in public or private places, have been prohibited since the 23rd March 2020, with a fine of €3000 for every breach. Open-air markets, apart from those selling food, will also be closed. Food market selling points must be 20 metres apart. In the case of funerals, priests will conduct the rite of blessing at the cemetery, as this is outdoors, in the presence of close relatives, followed by a private mass for the deceased. Although physically closed, national museums and Heritage Malta sites continue to ‘open their doors’ virtually.

In order to limit potential community transmission of COVID-19 to vulnerable persons and prevent the potential overload of the health services should these individuals become infected, a legal notice was issued on the 28th March 2020 requiring such vulnerable persons to remain segregated inside their residences. This cohort includes persons aged 65 and over, pregnant women and persons with certain chronic illnesses such as insulin dependent diabetics and those with cardiovascular diseases, persons who are facing or who have faced cancer or chemotherapy in the last 6 months and immunosuppressed persons. Exceptions are made for certain categories of persons in positions of office unless they choose otherwise; for medical appointments; to obtain food and daily necessities; and in cases of essential or urgent personal matters. In order to ensure that these vulnerable persons have the necessary support, a helpline for older people /people in quarantine for help with food supplies and medicines was established.

• Transport

The health ministry has worked in constant collaboration with the transport authorities regarding points of entry at airport and at sea, including cruise liners. Following the travel ban already described, only cargo flights and sea crossings carrying merchandise are permitted. Any arriving and departing passengers including truck drivers on the ferry to and from Sicily are screened and on landing in Malta, are subject to mandatory quarantined along with their household members.  All incoming yachts are screened and all passengers boarding the ferry between Malta and Gozo are subject to thermal screening.

On 01 April 2020, non-essential travel between Malta and Gozo was curtailed (LN 118 of 2020). From this date, commuters will only be allowed to use the Gozo Channel ferry service for the following reasons: work, medical, cargo trips, visiting relatives in hospital, visiting family members and returning to a residence (http://www.justiceservices.gov.mt/DownloadDocument.aspx?app=lp&itemid=30055&l=1).

No standing passengers are allowed on public buses. Buses are fumigated regularly at night and additional cleaning schedules during the day, windows must be left open and air conditioning units switched off.  Personal hand sanitizer bottles are provided to all employees that have direct contact with the public, including bus drivers, and hand sanitizers are installed in all transport authority facilities.  A ‘no change’ policy is in place which requires passengers to have exact amount available when purchasing a ticket. 

All driving tests have been postponed and driving lessons carried out under strict guidelines for mitigation including disinfection, ventilation and limitation of only one person to accompany the instructor in the vehicle at any one time. Driving licences which expire from March 2020 onwards will not be renewed; drivers with expired licenses shall not be penalised if they have an insurance policy. Vehicle Roadworthiness Testing (VRT) stations have been closed. Guidelines for taxi drivers were issued by the Health Authority.

• Economic measures

A financial package of almost €2 billion (12.9% of Malta’s GDP) has been allocated by the Government to assist businesses in the wake of COVID-19 spread. Whilst all measures have been taken to safeguard public health, the importance of protecting the country’s economy and the livelihood of its citizens has been prioritised; in the long run this will also impact public health positively.

General economic measures include:

• A financial package of €1.6 billion to offer liquidity to businesses, sub-divided into €700 million in tax deferrals and €900 million in loan guarantees
• Postponement of income-tax, VAT and National Insurance Contributions for March and April 2020 for employers and the self-employed
• A direct injection of €210 million (1.5% of the GDP) towards the strengthening of the economy and to safeguard employment
• €35 million towards Health Authorities to combat Covid-19. Financial assistance towards this measure is unlimited.
• €16 million for employers to receive a grant of €350 for every employee on quarantine leave and two-months of paid leave for 12,000 families where both parents are employed and where teleworking does not apply and thus one of the parents must take care of the children

In addition the Government will finance up to €800 per month of each employee’s monthly salary for:

• Between 20,000 and 44,000 workers employed in industries mostly affected by the suspension of operations due to public health measures in the hospitality, entertainment sectors as well as language schools
• Self-employed individuals, amounting to some 5,700 persons, who operate in the above-mentioned sectors
• Disabled persons who are unable to telework and are constrained to remain at home due to COVID-19

The wage subsidy scheme was extended until June on 20th April 2020.

All employees in public service subject to mandatory quarantine are granted quarantine leave without loss of income. Rent subsidies will be given to tenants becoming unemployed as a result of covid-19 measures, as well as sole dependents.

Enterprises which terminate employment will not be allowed to offer alternative working contracts to third-country nationals. No applications shall be received from third-country nationals with the exception of highly-skilled workers. Third country nationals who lose their jobs will be given assistance with alternative employment. Assistance will also be given to unemployed residents, third country nationals with regard to work permits and to assist employers seek out new staff.

In the context of COVID-19, the Planning Authority has extended development permissions that have already been issued and are still valid, but which are to expire, by three years. This measure will facilitate the completion of a number of development projects, and limit the number of simultaneous construction sites and activities and the associated impacts. 

A €5.3 million direct grants scheme to support investment in research and development related to COVID-19 was approved on 23rd April 2020 (https://www.imf.org/en/Topics/imf-and-covid19/Policy-Responses-to-COVID-19#M).

• Civil protection

No state of emergency or deployment of military resources has been effected in Malta. HAZMAT team preparedness is in place only if required and with its limitations, over and above dry decontamination procedures carried out by medical staff without assistance. The Civil Protection Department is involved in and is supportive of the national plans of the Health authorities. 

• Cross-border collaboration

Malta is working in close collaboration and is in regular communication with the World Health Organisation, the ECDC, the European Commission and the Health Security Council. Malta participates regularly in organised high-level/policy virtual meetings at Ministerial, technical, expert and clinical levels, as well as bilaterally with the various institutions and countries. Malta has entered the joint procurement initiative for the procurement of PPEs, medical equipment including ventilators and lab diagnostics within the EU. There is also communication between Maltese and Chinese authorities and coordination with Italy at Consular Level.

All efforts are being made to contain and limit the rate of transmission of COVID-19 in order to limit the potential overstretching of Malta’s health system and its resources, which, in the context of a small, population-dense island state, has limits. Nonetheless, Malta has been able to continue to share practices , guidelines, protocols, measures and legislation and lessons learnt so far, as well as information acquired from countries with a longer experience of COVID-19, as has been done with local NGOs with representation in third countries, and through the WHO Small Countries Network.

Sources:

Government of Malta. COVID-19 information page: www.covid19malta.info 

Legal notices in Malta: http://www.justiceservices.gov.mt/DownloadDocument.aspx?app=lp&itemid=30026&l=1 

IMF. Policy responses to COVID-19. https://www.imf.org/en/Topics/imf-and-covid19/Policy-Responses-to-COVID-19#M