Editorial | A damper and hope

Two things remain crucial: government’s continued financial support for industry, which is possible because of the robust finances that gave the country a breathing space; and pandemic-related decisions that continue being informed by scientific evidence

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Malta failed to make the UK’s travel green list when this was unveiled last week, which served as a damper for tourism operators.

The science or rather procedure adopted by the UK authorities to determine the green list is baffling to say the least. The inclusion of the uninhabited islands of South George and South Sandwich Islands, and the military bases of Ascension and Tristan de Cunha in the green list at the expense of other destinations is a polite way of keeping the doors shut without actually saying so.

The urge to look inward at a time of crisis is understandable. That is what the UK is probably trying to achieve by putting in ‘scientific’ obstacles to outward travel – British people will spend their cash inside the UK instead of abroad.

But it would be a mistake if economic nationalism were to prevail at the expense of a free market economy.

Vigilance and travel restrictions will continue to be necessary tools to control the pandemic but at a time when Europe is eyeing a recovery these have to be grounded in science and applied transparently.

The UK market remains an important one for Malta’s tourism prospects, which is why getting on that green list is necessary.

The science does show that the COVID-19 situation in Malta has improved and continues to get better week after week.

New cases have dropped radically, the number of active cases is also decreasing, the positivity rate and hospitalisations are also significantly down.

At the same time, the rapid inoculation rollout means that by next week, Malta will have achieved 70% population coverage with at least the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

If the same vaccination rates are maintained, 70% of the population would be fully vaccinated by the end of July.

The vaccination programme is moving fast ahead while restrictive measures continue to be lifted in a gradual manner and only after previous decisions to relax measures are allowed to run their course.

The situation is cautiously positive and offers hope that Malta’s tourism industry and consequently its economy can start to recover during the summer.

The UK setback should not dampen those prospects. Hopefully, when the UK green travel list is reviewed in three weeks’ time Malta will be on that list.

However, it is amply clear that the initial months of the recovery will depend on domestic spending and the €100 government vouchers that will be delivered from the 7 June are an important cash injection for the summer.

The European Commission’s Spring Forecast released yesterday says that Malta’s fast vaccination drive, paired with a gradual easing of restrictions in the EU and a high vaccination rate in the UK, is set to put the tourism sector on the path to recovery.

The tourism rebound is slated for the second half of 2021 if the current rate of improvement is maintained.

The Spring forecast sees Malta experiencing a robust recovery in 2021 and 2022 once tourism bounces back.

Two things remain crucial: government’s continued financial support for industry, which is possible because of the robust finances that gave the country a breathing space; and pandemic-related decisions that continue being informed by scientific evidence.

The hope that has been kindled must be nurtured.

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