Last Updated on Monday, 6 December, 2021 at 10:09 am by Andre Camilleri
Any disruptions arising from the introduction of any fragmented and disproportionate measures in response to the emergence of the new Omicron variant would have an immediate effect on Malta International Airport’s (MIA) traffic performance during the festive season, as well as a more far-reaching effect on spring and summer 2022, an MIA spokesperson told The Malta Independent on Sunday.
Omicron is a new variant of Covid-19, which has spread to a number of countries. While this variant has not yet reached Malta, it has been detected in very small numbers in parts of Europe. In addition, the Delta variant of Covid-19 is pushing up cases in Europe. This, coupled with growing fears over the Omicron variant, means governments around the world have been evaluating measures for populations tired of hearing about restrictions.
In Malta so far, no major restrictions have been re-introduced. The only restriction brought in was a temporary ban on travellers from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe. No indications have yet been given as to whether any other restrictions will be introduced. The Covid numbers in Malta have been on the rise, but the number of hospitalisations has remained low. Malta has a very high percentage of its population vaccinated.
The Malta Independent sent questions to the Malta International Airport, asking how this year so far has compared to 2020 in terms of passengers passing through the airport and in terms of flights. It was also asked whether it has any concerns about the Omicron variant and what preparations there are in place in case this variant of the virus reaches Malta, and for MIA’s expectations for 2022.
“Passenger numbers between January and October of this year were at 31% of 2019 figures for the same comparable stretch, while 2020 figures were at 26%. Aircraft movements for 2021, on the other hand, were at 41% of 2019 levels, while in 2020 they were at 37%. Traffic results for the last quarter have so far been in line with our expectations,” a spokesperson for MIA said.
“As many are preparing to travel for the holidays in December and January, our industry needs stability, which would ultimately give travellers the confidence to go ahead with their travel plans. Any disruptions arising from the introduction of fragmented and disproportionate measures in response to the emergence of the new variant, would have an immediate effect on our traffic performance during the festive season, as well as a more far-reaching effect on spring and summer 2022. With regard to preparations in case the new virus variant reaches Malta, Malta International Airport always follows the guidelines issued by the local health authority,” the spokesperson added.
With 428,426 passenger movements registered, last October became MIA’s best performing month since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. In a statement it had issued earlier in November about their October statistics, MIA said: “Despite this encouraging result, which can be partly attributed to the easing of more entry restrictions by government and the mid-term holiday effect, October’s traffic was still 39.1% lower than October 2019 levels.”
Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo on Tuesday said that the emergence of the new Covid-19 variant has so far had no effect on bookings and the government remains “cautiously optimistic” about the Christmas period. “We always take decisions based on science and always in discussion with the health authorities and with the superintendence for public health. This is what we have done over the past months and what we will keep doing in the coming months. We will continue analysing the information that comes to us and which is based on science,” Bartolo said when asked if any restrictions were in the works. Bartolo said that, so far there are no plans to stop flights coming from European countries that have found Omicron cases. He added, however, that government will continue monitoring the situation day by day so that if measures need to be taken, they will be taken in a timely manner.
Tony Zahra, president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, was asked by this newsroom on Friday whether there are any fears within the industry about the possibility of any restrictions being introduced over the Christmas period and what kind of effect that would have.
“Any restrictions that are introduced, whether they are light restrictions or otherwise, will have an effect. If they would be light restrictions they would have light effects, if they would be heavy restrictions they would have heavy effects. That is what experience has shown. But, at this moment in time we have no indications from the government that there are going to be any restrictions, so this is a hypothetical question.”
He said that Malta has a very high number of vaccinated people. He said that he has not read that this variant is more aggressive or dangerous than the previous variants. “What has been said is that it might be, that they don’t know and need time, that is what I have read.”
“We should not bandage our head before it is cut,” he added and said that we should stay with the science. He stressed the importance of vaccination and the booster shots.