The COVID-19 pandemic has given Malta’s health authorities extraordinary powers to introduce and enforce regulations to combat the spread of the virus.
Malta has only just started to lift drastic but necessary measures, with the number of active cases in steady decline.
Retail outlets have been allowed to open with strict restrictions, while the wearing of masks inside commercial establishments becoming mandatory. Sets of guidelines have been published by the Health Ministry.
However, many people have been left confused over whether they’ll be breaking the law under the new measures.
Here are some of your questions answered:
1. Can I go on a bus, taxi or ferry without a mask?
No. Regulations make it clear that anyone not wearing a face mask or visor cannot be allowed onto a bus, taxi or ferry. They must wear it throughout the journey and must also wear it when they’re waiting for the bus at a stop. The same rules apply to all of Malta’s public transport.
Drivers have a right to refuse entry to people not wearing a mask but have no power to enforce the law or take action against a passenger not adhering to the instructions. Transport Malta have explained that drivers have a right, but not an obligation, to report passengers in breach of the mask regulation to the police.
The guidelines make it clear that it is up to the individual passengers to ensure they are wearing a mask throughout the journey, as well as while waiting on the bus stop or ferry landing site, meaning any legal responsibility will fall squarely on their shoulders, and not those of the driver or captain.
2. Can I go on a bus if I’m a vulnerable person?
Yes, there are no restrictions in place on vulnerable persons using public transport.
3. Can I go into a non-essential shop if I’m a vulnerable person?
No again. The Health Ministry’s guidelines clearly state that anyone who falls into the vulnerable persons’ category as defined by a legal notice cannot be allowed into non-essential retail outlets.
This includes people who are over 65, pregnant women, and persons suffering from chronic illnesses or certain medical conditions who are deemed more at risk of developing complications if they get infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Unlike transport regulations for mask-wearing, the guidelines place the onus of responsibility on retail outlet owners, meaning they can be punished by law if they allow a vulnerable person to enter the premises.
Vulnerable people can still go into groceries, supermarkets, pharmacies, and any other essential shops.
4. Can I go into a shop without a mask?
No, people must always wear a face mask or visor when they’re entering a shop, be it an essential or non-essential outlet. The same applies to the outlet’s staff.
All shops need to provide sanitising gel, maintain social distance, and limit the number of customers in their shops.
Again, it is the responsibility of shops themselves to ensure that everyone is wearing a mask.
5. So, can I be fined for breaking these rules?
Malta declaring a public health emergency has granted the Superintendent of Public Health extraordinary powers during the crisis.
Beyond the power to introduce any regulation they deem fit, the Superintendent has the power to segregate people, evacuate and block access to entire areas, control the movement of any vehicle, order medical examinations, and any action “they may consider appropriate”.
Breaking any of the Superintendent’s orders will subject a person to a fine ranging between €233 and €4,659 or imprisonment between six months to two years.
Penalties are harsher for second-time offenders, with fines ranging between €465 and €11,647 or imprisonment between two and four years.
While no legal notice for the use of masks and face visors has been issued, the Health Ministry’s documents make it clear that the guidelines are “obligatory conditions” issued under the act and “require strict adherence.”
“Failure to adhere to these conditions will result in enforcement procedures as provided by the Act,” the document reads.
It seems that while an officer might be reluctant to do so, they will well be within their rights to issue a fine.