The Malta Independent 14 July 2020, Tuesday

Welcome back, world, you have been sorely missed

Noel Grima Sunday, 28 June 2020, 08:02 Last update: about 16 days ago

We have had the reopening of shops and of some other Covid restrictions such as bars and restaurants. There were some celebrations to mark this but it was rather hesitant in nature.

First of all, people are still afraid that the second wave could come or that the recovery could falter, there would be less people in shops, more people to lose their jobs and a depression comes and envelops everything.

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Then it has also to be said, the Covid attack here was not as bad as in other countries, less people died and consequently the lockdown, such as it was, was considerably less harsh. But mainly, the recovery, such as it was, missed one important component – it lacked the tourists and these are now an important factor in the national economy.

Now, from the day after tomorrow, this will be corrected. (Having said that, I note that an Emirates flight to Dubai has just left Malta. Friday noon. No announcement has been made, to my knowledge.) Nor has the airport remained hermetically sealed. Any day there would be a number of 'repatriation flights'.

Not counting the Incredible number of flights by small planes buzzing around. Just outside Malta, intercontinental flights traverse between Africa and Europe or even to America, passing over Malta. K But apart from these exceptions, the airport remained empty and closed, the hotels shuttered up and a general air of desolation filled the air.

In the short space of time between the lifting of the restrictions and today, the Maltese clients and customers did not manage to fill in the gaps left by the absent tourists. In Marsaxlokk on Thursday, for instance, the Maltese-owned restaurants reverted to how we remember the 1960s – nanna and aunties gossiping near the entrance – very Cuban if you like.

Having said all this, it is also clear that quite a number of foreigners have remained in Malta, and not just migrants only. They are people who chose to remain here and for whom Malta is home. But all this is small crumbs compared to wave after wave of tourists we expect to welcome the day after tomorrow. We still do not know how many will be coming, though the hotels and the airlines would. So we still do not know if Malta's attractiveness still works.

On the other hand, there would be a still unspecified number of people residing here who jump at the opportunity to go abroad to have a holiday. One who monitors flights taking off from MIA and who compares them to flights from s nearby airport, such as Catania, cannot not notice that even in this limited lockdown, Malta offered more incoming and outgoing flights than a larger airport. While the big roadworks have been continued with limited delays, and some hotels have used the idle time to do repairs and maintenance, others seem to have just shut up and gone home.

While the minister has focused her limited meetings to constituted bodies, maybe now is the time to tour hotels and other accommodation to ensure everything is shipshape for when the tourists come. Obviously, a good part of the country looks on the arrival of tourists with trepidation considering that the virus is still alive and kicking out there. There are certain areas of behaviour where the rules followed out there seem more draconian than anything we have here. Hopefully, they will shame us to a more rigid obedience of the rules because there has been a certain slacking.

It would have also helped if incoming tourists were made to get tested before they leave their country and to exhibit a certificate attesting this before being allowed in the country. And maybe they should be handed an information sheet highlighting the testing facilities we have here and what to do in case of sickness.

Hopefully, the Maltese going abroad get this sort of information too. Certainly, back in last January and even before, this information was sadly lacking.

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