It’s the second summer which we are facing under the ever-present eye of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it’s the second summer where Malta has managed to bungle its tourism strategy.
Two different ministers – Julia Farrugia Portelli last summer and Clayton Bartolo this summer – have tried, and subsequently failed, to safely reopen Malta’s borders for the touristic season.
Last year we had Farrugia Portelli’s so-called ‘mechanisms’, while this year we had vouchers and incentives for tourists and other demographics such as language students to come to Malta and enjoy the summer here.
As it turned out, all they’re enjoying is chaos surrounding travel restrictions – which have flip-flopped more than the said tourist’s footwear would have in a day at the beach – and the risk of contracting Covid-19 amidst an astonishingly sudden spike in cases of the virus.
Malta has gone from around 20 active cases to over 2,000 active cases of Covid-19 in the space of three or so weeks.
The catalyst for this spike was in imported cases – specifically cases centred around English language schools: a demographic which the Tourism Ministry tried especially hard to bring to Malta through vouchers which would eventually tally up to €300 per person – despite presumably knowing full well that these students are likely to be unvaccinated and live in shared accommodation which would have made virus transmission a near-enough certainty if a case was found.
That is – in fact – what came to pass. The government reacted by shutting English language schools and by introducing a ban on unvaccinated travellers – which was later repealed after EU pressure, but by then the damage had been done.
Once again, the Maltese people have been failed by an inferior tourism strategy which has – whichever way you look at it – failed to strike the necessary balance between health and economy.
An increase in cases was always to be expected when tourism was reopened – but the current case numbers are beyond that.
Perhaps the tourism reopening last summer could have been somewhat forgiven, given the fact that it was the first summer dealing with the pandemic and there was no manual or list of mistakes that one should learn from.
This summer, however, tourism authorities have seemingly repeated the same mistakes and once again brought the virus back to the Maltese shores.
We must question: why did the country not err on the side of caution? Yes, it would have resulted in less tourism; but some tourism is better than no tourism, which is what we risk getting now given the chaos surrounding case numbers and travel restrictions.
Much was said about Julia Farrugia Portelli’s “mechanisms” and much pressure was put on her to step down over her performance as Tourism Minister: on the balance of things however, Clayton Bartolo’s performance hasn’t been much better.
In fact, one can argue that bringing an island which has over 80% of its population fully vaccinated to a situation where active case numbers are rising ever closer to record numbers makes his performance even worse.