‘We are not responsible for the non-green listing’

Last Updated on Friday, 4 June, 2021 at 12:45 pm by Andre Camilleri

Malta is set to open for tourism on 1 June, and the country was surprised to learn that it was left out of the UK’s green list on 7 May. The UK is one of Malta’s largest markets when it comes to tourism. Speaking to this newsroom regarding travel corridors, Deputy High Commissioner Fiona Maxton said: “UK ministers make the decision to add countries to the Red, Amber or Green lists, and this is informed by the latest scientific data and public health advice from a range of experts including the Joint Biosecurity Centre. The decision-making around the UK’s RAG system is iterative, and is expected that the current system will cycle approximately every three weeks”.

Asked about the rumours circulating locally regarding involvement with the travel rating system, the Deputy British High Commissioner denied such claims. The High Commission is not directly involved with the travel rating system nor responsible for the recent non-green listing. So, how does the UK decide who makes the green list? The High Commission explains the following official risk assessment methodology applied to inform the international traffic light system.

“The Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), part of the UK Health Security Agency, in partnership with devolved administrations, has developed a dynamic risk assessment methodology to inform ministerial decisions on red, amber and green list countries and territories, and the associated border measures. This methodology has been endorsed by the JBC technical board (4 UK Chief Medical Officers and their relevant specialists, such as Chief Scientific Advisers)”.

The JBC reviews over 250 countries and territories. As a precautionary approach, countries and territories are assumed to be amber unless there is specific evidence to suggest they are:

• Green – presenting (with confidence) a low public health risk to the UK from all COVID-19 strains

• Red – presenting a high public health risk to the UK from known Variants of Concern (VOC), known high-risk Variants under Investigation (VUI) or as a result of very high in-country or territory prevalence of COVID-19

The extensive methodology consists of 4 parts, variant assessment, triage, risk assessment and outcomes that inform ministerial decision.  All countries and territories that pass triage for green or red indicators undergo a more comprehensive risk assessment using additional quantitative and qualitative information. For example, from publicly available platforms such as GISAID and the World Health Organization, host government websites, UK mandatory testing data and travel data), taking into account data availability, limitations and biases. Travel connections with the UK and details of the in-country and territory vaccination profile are also included.

Decisions on red, amber or green list assignment and associated borders measures are taken by ministers. Ministers will take the JBC risk assessments into account alongside wider public health factors to inform watchlists and make their decisions.

The UK government states that this methodology will evolve to reflect the changing pattern of the COVID-19 epidemic. The JBC incorporates new scientific insights, new data sources, and new analyses that become available. The methodology used is subject to quarterly review (as a minimum) by the JBC technical board.

Speaking to this newsroom, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo said. “Whether or not Malta makes the UK’s travel green list anytime soon rests on each and every person’s shoulders.”

Asked how positive he is about the prospect of being included in the UK’s green list any time soon, Bartolo said that this depends on how much everyone follows the protocols in place to not see a spike in cases.

“The announcement that the British Prime Minister made continues to place more importance on the fact that we need to be responsible. Each and every one of us needs to be responsible not only for themselves but also for those around them,” Bartolo said.

“At the end of the day, this places the responsibility of the whole country on each of our shoulders. Each and every one of us has to be responsible. Follow the public health protocols so that our country continues to move forward in managing the pandemic.”

Regarding whether Malta had to change its tourism marketing plan since it is possible that the UK might not add Malta to the green list, the Minister said that the country was already prepared for such a scenario.

“The marketing strategy that the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) worked on considers diverse scenarios, so we were already prepared for any eventuality that might have cropped up,” he said.

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