Exclusive interview with Superintendent of Public Health

Oh My Malta sits down with Professor Charmaine Gauci, Superintendent of Public Health, to discuss Malta’s public health measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic

what are your comments regarding the current situation in malta?

Similar to the entire globe, Malta is currently facing an epidemic. The country’s initial response to COVID-19 helped us succeed in controlling the spread and avoiding large numbers of people from requiring hospital care or dying. Our bordered have been re-opened since 1 July, when the transmission oft he virus had reached low levels. Since then, we have been doing our utmost to keep the virus under control. Our aim is to keep out population healthy, as well as travellers visiting Malta during this time.

what are the most recent quarantine updates?

Quarantine is used to protect the population from people who are infectious or could potentially become infectious. The purpose of quarantine is to prevent the spread. People who have tested positive for COVID-19 must undergo mandatory quarantine for a minimum of 14 days as advised by the Public Health Authorities. Anyone else who lives in the same household must also undergo mandatory quarantine.

Contact tracing is done to identify people who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive. Such close contacts must undergo mandatory quarantine for 14 days.

Malta has taken further measures to control the spread within the community and prevent cases from being imported. High risk countries have been put on an amber list that is reviewed weekly, through the introduction of Legal Notice 333 of 2020 of the Laws of Malta. Visitors coming from these countries need to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test. They may be subject to testing and/or quarantine if required. 

Countries included in the amber list are limited to previously defined travel corridor countries to and from, which direct scheduled flight connections are being currently operated from the Malta International Airport.

are travellers required to wear face masks? where and when should they be worn?

The use of face masks helps reduce the spread of infection in the community, by limiting the spread from infected individuals who may not know that they are infected, who have not yet developed symptoms or who will remain asymptomatic. The wearing of masks will therefore enhance the effects of physical distancing. Face covers are not meant to replace physical distancing. 

It is important to observe cough and sneezing etiquette, maintain meticulous hand hygiene and avoid touching of the face. Wearing a face mask or visor is required in addition to these measures, which should always be practiced.

Face masks are obligatory by legislation for anyone who is: 

  • Inside any retail outlets

  • Travelling on any public transport, including taxis

  • Travelling between Malta and Gozo, including in the respective Ċirkewwa and Imġarr terminals

  • Within the terminal building for passengers travelling by the catamaran or by cruise liners

  • Government departments/ministries/public sector entities, court building, hospitals, health centres and educational establishments

  • Lobby and common areas in hotels and guest houses, common areas in restaurants when not seated at table

  • Indoor museums, libraries, indoor art exhibitions

  • Banks and financial institutions

In these locations, everyone (apart from children under the age of three), is obliged to wear a visor, medical or cloth mask.

The mandatory use of Medical or Cloth Masks (Amendment No.2) Regulations (LN 335 of 2020) introduces the compulsory wearing of visors, medical or cloth masks when ‘obtaining a service or visiting indoor public places.’ This would include the above four points.

Anyone who fails to abide by the provisions of these regulations shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to the payment of a penalty of €100 for each and every instance in which these regulations are breached. Provided that the offence is admitted and the penalty is paid before proceedings are commenced before the Commissioner for Justice, the penalty applicable will be reduced to €50.

how can one protect themselves against the virus during their stay in malta?

Everyone should keep up the following practices to avoid acquiring or transmitting COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases:

wash your hands: frequently and with soap and water or an alcohol hand-rub (minimum of 70% alcohol concentration). You should rub your hands thoroughly for at least 2o seconds. If you’re using soap and water, you should see a lather (bubbles forming).  Wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, after going to the bathroom, before and after eating and and smoking, after touching surfaces outside the home, especially frequently touched surfaces in public spaces like handrails, doorknobs, lift buttons etc, after visiting public spaces or using public transport and as soon as you return to your accommodation. 

Use respiratory etiquette: this means that you should cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or the inner side of your flexed elbow when coughing or sneezing. Make sure not to cough or sneeze into your hands as you may contaminate objects or people that you touch. If this can’t be avoided, wash your hands immediately afterwards. Dispose of used tissues immediately in a bin and wash your hands. Do not leave tissues running around. 

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth: these are the sites through which the virus can enter thew body and infect you. Since your hands can become contaminated by touching surfaces, you should not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. 

Practise social distancing: maintain a distance of at least two metres from individuals who are not part of your family unit or who you are not sharing a room with while travelling. It’s also vital to acknowledge the markings indicating a two metre distance, which can be found in public places, shops, cultural sites and other places. These will help you maintain proper physical distancing whilst queuing. Social distancing also includes not greeting people in ways that involve physical contact, such as hugs or handshakes. You can wave, nod or elbow knock insead.

what should one do if feeling sick after arriving in malta?

Please stay in your hotel room/temporary residence and call Malta’s COVID-19 Public Health helpline on +356 2132 4086. The helpline operates between 6am and 9pm. if symptoms develop while you’re out, put on a mask, stay away from the rest of your group and contact the helpline for guidance. The staff will guide you and explain how you can get tested for COVID-19. 

This test is available free of charge and in most instances, you can get tested within a few hours of contacting the helpline. Test results can be communicated to you in various ways including SMS and email. Until the results are issued, you and those travelling with you should remain in your hotel or place of temporary residence, as you may be infectious to others. 

You should inform hotel staff that you have been tested for COVID-19 so they would be able to take the necessary precautions when entering your room. Together with your test result, you will also receive instructions from the Public Health authorities, explaining any other actions that may need to be taken. For urgent medical care, please call 112. Please help us keep Malta a safe holiday destination. 

For more info, please visit covid19health.gov.mt