It will be Health chief Charmaine Gauci who will decide for how long Malta’s travel restrictions will be retained, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo told The Malta Independent on Wednesday.
Under the current travel restrictions, all unvaccinated arrivals must quarantine for 14 days – a go-around from what was initially a complete ban on unvaccinated travellers.
In the past couple of weeks, Malta saw a spike in cases where the country is now registering over 2,000 active cases of the virus.
Most of the new cases were attributed to non-residents and foreign students learning English in Malta, with the latter making up 25% of the total active cases, as per a Times of Malta report on Wednesday morning.
Bartolo remarked that the length of the travel measures will be decided by the Health Superintendent. “Our main aim will remain finding a balance between lives and livelihoods, and this seems to be happening.”
Bartolo was asked whether his Ministry has any statistics on how many bookings and how much income was lost due to the change in measures, to which he said the statistics will “start coming through in due time and once we have the results, rest assured that we will hand over all the necessary information.”
Asked what he thinks about the fact that 25% of the cases were English language students, the minister said that he is “disappointed to see that certain people are being discriminated against, as we don’t believe in discrimination.”
“I deplore any type of discrimination, wherever it comes from and whoever it happens against,” he said. Bartolo remarked that the students who came to Malta entered the country “according to the established rules by both the Government as well as Europe.”
The minister was asked whether he thinks that the recovery in the tourism sector will take a bit longer than was predicted, due to the spike in cases.
“Cases are increasing in other countries as well, and there are other countries which the ECDC removed from the green list after cases increased in the past few weeks, such as the Netherlands and Spain,” he said.
Bartolo said that the Government needs to be agile and take the decisions that need to be taken. “When we decided to accept only vaccinated tourists… this was because we prioritised health over tourism. Once we took that decision, we gave the unvaccinated tourists two options; either take the vaccine to come to our country, or – for those who had holidays on short notice – to cancel their holiday,” he said.
Asked whether the government could have taken the decision to only allow vaccinated tourists into the country earlier, the minister said that this was not possible. “There was an agreement with the European Commission regarding how things were going to move forward.”
“We first had to implement the measures we had in place before, where a person coming to Malta has to be either vaccinated or have a negative PCR test. Once we saw that the measure didn’t work, then we could divert to the restriction where only people who are fully vaccinated could enter the country,” he said.