Malta backs off ban on unvaccinated visitors after EU balks

·2 min read

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Malta has backed off a new rule that would have allowed only people with proof of having been vaccinated against the coronavirus to enter the country after the European Commission raised concerns that it might impede the right to free movement within the 27-nation bloc.

In a revised regulation issued late Tuesday, the Maltese government said people arriving without a recognized vaccination certificate would have to quarantine upon arrival in the Mediterranean island nation. Currently, Malta only recognizes vaccination certificates from Malta, the EU, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

The government originally wanted to allow in only vaccinated visitors to curb a rise in COVID-19 cases. The vaccine requirement rule had been due to take effect Wednesday.

But European Commission spokesperson Christian Wigand told reporters this week that while EU member nations can put restrictions in place to protect public health, any such measure must be proportionate and non-discriminatory.

“A vaccination certificate cannot be a precondition for the exercise of free movement,” Wigand said during a news conference in Brussels. “This is one of the main principles of the EU digital COVID certificate regulation.”

He said the EU Commission had raised concerns with the Maltese government that its requirement “could discriminate against those persons who are not fully vaccinated.”

The Maltese government issued a legal notice late Tuesday with revised travel rules that came into effect on Wednesday. The notice lists countries from which people can travel to Malta. It says individuals a recognized COVID-19 vaccination certificate can enter the country freely, while those without one must quarantine for 14 days.

The Maltese government didn't explain why it changed the regulation on the eve before it came into force.

But Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for internal markets, said Tuesday that he had spoken with Prime Minister Robert Abela “on the proportionality of specific travel measures to cope with variants.” In a tweet, Breton said he was pleased with “the evolution of the position of Maltese authorities.”

The Malta Tourism Authority warned Wednesday that anyone arriving in Malta without proof of having received a European-approved vaccine would be forced to quarantine in a hotel and pay a minimum accommodation fee of 1,400 euros ($1,656) per room.

Anyone who cannot take a COVID-19 vaccine for medical reasons and children ages 5-11 are exempt from the quarantine but must present proof of a negative coronavirus test upon arrival. Children under age 5 don’t need a test result or certificate.

Malta added 218 new cases over the past day to bring its official caseload to more than 31,000, while its official death toll stands at 420.

Kevin Schembri Orland, The Associated Press

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