The COVID 19 pandemic has brought about a number of restrictions to our daily lives. This has been done to ensure our own safety from the Corona Virus, which has taken thousands of lives worldwide. The Superintendent of Public Health has given a number of orders ranging from orders relating to public gatherings to closure of non-essential establishments. In order to ensure that these orders are observed, new legislation has introduced new offences against anyone who disobeys these orders.
The article provides a summary and an analysis of these new offences:
The first orders which were introduced concerned persons arriving from particular countries. These were Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, Spain, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Iran and South Korea. People arriving from these countries were to quarantine themselves for 14 days. Persons who fail to do so will risk a penalty of €1,000 for each and every occasion that the quarantine period is breached. This Legal Notice was issued on 12 March 2020. The next day, this order was extended to all countries. Therefore, any persons arriving to Malta from whichever country, is bound to quarantine his/herself for 14 days.
On 17 March 2020, the Superintendent of Public Health ordered the closure of a large number of public establishments such as bars, restaurants, cinemas, bingo halls and many others. This came into force the next day on 18 March and a Legal Notice 83/2020 created a new offence with a fine of €3,000 for “for each and every occasion that the order for closure of places open to the public is breached.” Nonetheless, Legal Notice 76/2020 allowed the operation of these establishments insofar as this is limited to the provision of take aways and deliveries, meaning that these businesses were still prohibited from allowing customers into their establishments to serve them.
The closure of businesses was consequently extended and in fact, on 23 March 2020, the Superintendent of Public Health ordered the closure of non-essential shops, including shops for sportswear, jewellery, footwear, furniture shops and many others. Legal Notice 96/2020 imposed a fine identical to that imposed in relation to the closure of public places, meaning that a €3,000 fine will be imposed for each and every occasion in which a person breaches the order for closure. Similarly, these establishments may be open only for deliveries. Therefore, it would seem that whilst customers are prohibited from entering into a particular establishment, employees may enter the building to make arrangements for deliveries.
Legal Notice 99 of 2020 is an order aimed at those persons who are diagnosed with COVID 19, and in virtue of which they are ordered to self-isolate themselves. This order is also applicable to persons who live in the same residence and is enforceable with a fine of €10,000 for each and every occasion in which a diagnosed person or anyone residing in the same residence as such person is found to be in breach of this order. There seems to be no legal definition of self-isolation, however, from the public announcements made by the Superintendent of Public Health herself, this means that one has to remain at their residence or else at an address given to the authorities at all times. Therefore, if an infected person is not found at the address given, they will be fined €10,000. If they are not found for a second time, the fine would be €20,000 in total. This order came into force on 23 March 2020.
On 30 March 2020 a new order was issued by means of Legal Notice 112/2020, which prohibited gatherings of more than three persons. However, this legal notice did provide for some exceptions, particularly in relation to gatherings who exceed three in number if such persons live in the same household or else if the persons are waiting for a bus or in a queue, as long as they keep a distance of two meters from each other. If persons are found to be in groups of more than three, and do not fall under any of these exceptions, then each person will be fined the sum of €100.
Please note that at the moment all criminal prescriptions are suspended in terms of the Epidemics and Infectious Disease (Suspension of Legal and Judicial Times) (Amendment) Order, 2020, Legal Notice 84/2020. This allows the police to issue charges at a later stage. The prescriptive period according to this legal notice will commence seven days after the order of suspension of legal timeframes is withdrawn from the Superintendent of Public Health by means of another legal notice.
Dr Malcolm Mifsud