A picture taken on July 4, 2021 in Paris shows a mobile phone whose screen bears a EU Digital Covid certificate. - The European health certificate, which Belgium began using on June 16, 2021, has become operational across the EU on July 1, 2021. (AFP)
The Mediterranean island nation of Malta is requiring proof of coronavirus vaccination for visitors 13 and up, the first European Union nation to do so,
Starting Wednesday, visitors to Malta must present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate that is recognized by Maltese health authorities, meaning certificates issued by Malta, the European Union or the United Kingdom.
The EU's green passport program certifies people who are fully vaccinated, but also those who receive a negative PCR test result or have recovered from COVID-19. But Malta has decided to only recognize those who are fully vaccinated in hopes of stemming a recent rise in confirmed coronavirus cases.
"Malta will be the first EU country taking this step,'' Health Minister Chris Fearne said.
Children aged 5-12 will only need to present proof of a negative PCR test, while those under 5 are exempt from all documentation requirements.
Malta, which has a population of just over half a million, had 46 active cases on July 1 and 252 active cases as of Friday. The country has reported nearly 31,000 cases and 420 deaths in the pandemic.
The Maltese government says 90% of its new COVID-19 cases are among unvaccinated people. Currently, 79% of Maltese adults have been fully vaccinated.
Fearne said most of the new infections were linked to travel. Several positive cases were identified in English-language teaching schools, and the Italian Foreign Ministry said Saturday that "a growing number`` of Italians _ most of them minors _ were among them.
They were being quarantined, as were their classmates, even those who tested negative.
In a statement, the Italian Foreign Ministry said it was trying to persuade the Maltese government to let the students who had tested negative return home, but said the Maltese government had refused and was requiring a 14-day quarantine for people who had tested positive and come into contact with them.
The Maltese government ordered the closure of the language schools starting Wednesday.