Diplomatic discussions are underway between the Maltese and UK governments for Malta to be included in Britain’s ‘air bridge’ list, sources have told The Malta Independent.
The British government was expected to release the official list of safe travel countries on Monday, but it was unclear whether Malta would be included. This raised concerns among local tourism operators, who fear that the UK market could suffer if Malta is not placed on the so-called ‘green list.’ UK nationals will not have to quarantine for 14-days upon returning from countries on the list.
When contacted, Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli said that, “after successfully controlling the virus outbreak in Malta and now resulting to be one of the safest countries in the world, this week Malta is ready to start welcoming tourists from 22 different destinations.”
“All decisions are taken on scientific evidence and the government is committed to open up to further countries from the 15 July,” she said.
Farrugia Portelli added that “such responsible planning, together with the vision of our tourism operators and the resilience of our workers, will be key to the success of our country and its tourism sector.”
The Malta Independent also spoke to the president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA), Tony Zahra, who said that, “if Malta is not among the countries on the UK list of safe corridors, this would not be a disaster, but rather a setback as the UK accounts for 30% of our markets.”
The British government is expected to make a decision and introduce which countries are going to be on the green list based on a traffic light system. Countries which are classified as ‘Green’ will mean that they are safer than the UK, ‘Amber’ countries implies that they are less safe, and ‘Red’ will mean that any arrivals will have to self-isolate on return from that country.
Among the countries expected to be on the green list are France, Spain and Italy, although the situation has been changing rapidly. Greece was also being mentioned as one of the countries considered safe by the UK, but the Greek government said it is extending a ban on direct flights arriving from Britain, pushing it back to 15 July.
Portugal is not expected to be on the list, with reports suggesting that there was a diplomatic dispute as the Portuguese government tries to convince the UK that it is a safe destination.
Zahra remarked that, “if Malta does not feature on the UK list of safe corridors, this would be of great concern for us as we wouldn’t be able to operate from the UK.”
“Although we are not sure how the list is being established and what criteria is being considered, we are certainly doing everything in our power to place Malta on the list of safe corridors. I hope we will get there, especially given our excellent results in how we handled the Coronavirus pandemic in recent months,” Zahra said.
He explained that “in previous years, the UK market presented a total of 73%, but now it has gone down to 30%. Reason being is not because we reduced the number of arrivals from the UK but because there has been an increase of arrivals from other countries.”
The Covid-19 pandemic reached a new milestone over the weekend with the death toll exceeding 500,000. In the UK, residents of Leicester waited Monday to hear whether lockdown restrictions will persist for their area for two weeks longer following a spike in coronavirus infections.
Leicester has recorded 866 new coronavirus cases in the two weeks up to June 23, or nearly a third of its total through the pandemic.
That prompted Home Secretary Priti Patel to indicate over the weekend that the city would face a local lockdown in a bid to get the outbreak under control. It would be the first time a U.K. city faced a local lockdown.
Patel also warned that the air bridges deal won’t happen overnight. “They will take time because some of this will be down to negotiation [and] discussion with certain countries,” she said.
The EU is also in the process of introducing a ‘safe list’ including the countries whose citizens will be allowed to enter Europe again in the coming days. The United States, Brazil, Russia and India are bound to be excluded from this list due to the high number of Coronavirus cases.
The countries which will feature in the ‘safe list’ are being chosen according to the countries’ Coronavirus statistics, infection rate and reliability of their data. This list will be reviewed every 14 days, with new countries being added and some possibly dropping off, depending on how the spread of the disease is being managed.
It has been estimated that over 15 million American nationals travel to Europe annually, therefore if this is further delayed, economies and tourism sectors will be severally damaged, and around 10 million Europeans are thought to cross the Atlantic for holidays and business each year.