Following an announcement that the public health emergency will be lifted on 30th June, together with the lifting of a ban on mass events and the number of people who can gather in public, questions were raised about what this will mean for COVID-19 protocols governing how businesses such as restaurants and salons can operate.
Despite remarks by the Prime Minister saying that protocols such as the use of masks and social distancing, were always intended as guidelines and will not be legally enforceable, a spokesperson from the health authorities said that such protocols remain in place as they are “not issued under the Public Health Emergency”, but the Public Health Act.
Asked whether they would be legally enforceable, the spokesperson, coming from the COVID-19 Transition - Mater Dei Hospital unit, said: "Yes, all guidelines are issued under the Public Health Act and not under the Public Health Emergency".
Dr Abela, in a televised interview two Sundays ago, had said:
“While there won't be a legal obligation, as there wasn't as they were always guidelines, it is good that people keep observing them. My recommendation is that we keep following them. In terms of [distancing] restaurant tables, one will need to see how it evolves.”
As Malta’s economy began to be opened up in phases, with retail outlets allowed to open from 4th May, restaurants and salons from 22nd May, and the remainder of most establishments on 1st June, a number of COVID-19 guidelines/protocols were issued as mitigation measures against the spread of the virus.
Such guidelines included the distancing of tables by 3m inside restaurants and 2m when occupying outdoor spaces, the use of Perspex screens for nail bars and salon reception areas, the use of masks by staff and clients inside salons, limiting of the number of people inside retail outlets and a requirement to set aside items clients have tried on for 72 hours.
Protocol documents for various establishments, such as gyms, bars, cinemas, restaurants, spas, lidos, accommodation, retail outlets, lotto booths, massage services, dance schools, tattoo studios and more, outlining measures to be adopted by businesses once allowed to reopen to the public.
Each document, found on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s website, contains a section entitled ‘Mandatory conditions to be observed’ and in subsequent sections further measures are also included.
Establishments were also subject to inspections by the authorities, and the Malta Tourism Authority in the case of MTA-licensed establishments, to ensure that the protocols are adhered to. The spokesperson confirmed that protocols for mass events are currently being drafted.