Swift herd immunity imperative to promote Malta as a safe destination

Reaching herd immunity as quickly as possible will place Malta as a frontrunner in the upcoming race to attract tourists back... if Malta can match other countries’ vaccination programmes

Bars and clubs will remain closed until 1 February under COVID-mitigating measures
Bars and clubs will remain closed until 1 February under COVID-mitigating measures

The economic viability of many businesses in 2021 will depend on how quickly Malta reaches herd immunity in its COVID-19 vaccination programme, as this could give it a head start once tourism starts picking up again, Business Today has learned.

Philip Fenech, deputy president of the Malta Chamber of SMEs, said that once other countries’ vaccination efforts took hold, those citizens will be looking to travel to the safest destinations around them.

“Because of our size, Malta could reach herd immunity quickly, this being among the first safe destinations available,” he said. “Failure to do so might see the beginning of the recovery for many businesses slip to next year if we don’t manage to attract serious tourist numbers this year.”

Fenech said that the first thing people will do once the vaccination programmes are widespread is to travel outside their countries. When that happens, Malta needs to be in a position to promote itself as a completely safe destination.

In a press conference yesterday, Health Minister Chris Fearne once again said that the general non-vulnerable population will not start receiving the COVID-19 vaccine until the end of May, with herd immunity expected to be reached at the end of September.

But that would mean that Malta will miss out on attracting tourists during the peak summer season, which could be disastrous for many operators in the industry, Fenech believes.

“Admittedly, even if we reach herd immunity ahead of summer, we will still depend on other countries pushing their own vaccination programmes quickly enough to allow for safe air travel,” he acknowledged.

Fenech also lamented the lack of individual responsibility demonstrated once again over Christmas and New Year, leading possibly to a spike in the number of new cases registered.

“It is imperative that we adhere to established protocols and that people realise that regulations will be in place for a long while, even once our country starts accepting tourists again,” he said. “Our main collective objective now should be to reach herd immunity and promote Malta as a safe destination before the summer season. Anything else is not an option for many businesses.”

Philip Fenech, deputy president, Malta Chamber of SMEs
Philip Fenech, deputy president, Malta Chamber of SMEs

Two to three years to recovery

David Xuereb, president of the Chamber of Commerce, was even more cautious when asked about his outlook for 2021.

He said Malta’s economy will not bounce back to pre-COVID levels for at least another two or three years, and only if businesses manage to re-engineer themselves in the meantime.

He told BusinessToday that while the COVID-19 vaccine will help to start bringing personal lives back onto a normal track, it will take much longer for business to return to “any sort of normal”.

Xuereb said that the vaccine will bring about some semblance of normality, as countries start reopening their doors to mainstream inbound tourism once again.

But he insists that the long-term longevity of many businesses – and the country’s economy – depends on a successful re-engineering of existing structures, methods and ideologies.

“As a country, we are already late and should have started this last year,” he said. “Other countries have already started restructuring even while facing and fighting COVID-19 like us. Fortunately, because of our size, we can still get there faster than most.”

In July last year, the Chamber proposed the Business Re-engineering and Transformation Scheme to the Government, aimed at helping businesses analyse their business models as they embark on a restructuring journey to understand how they can grow more efficient and future-proof.

This re-engineering of businesses is a concept the Chamber has been advocating for a number of years but it was only once COVID-19 brought the economy to a halt that its importance became clearer than ever.

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