The Malta Independent 30 March 2023, Thursday
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TMID Editorial: Tourism – Julia’s failed mechanisms

Friday, 21 August 2020, 08:04 Last update: about 4 years ago

Malta is by far the safest country in the Mediterranean, Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli told the BBC in early July.

That was the time when the number of new Coronavirus cases was steadily on the decline and we were close to achieving zero active cases. It was also the time when the airport was still to be reopened in full, and measures introduced in March had started to be relaxed.


It might, at best, have been a mistake due to her inexperience or, at worst, a result of incompetence for her to make such an arrogant statement to one of the most respected media houses in the world, knowing that the situation was volatile and could have drastically changed. As it in fact did.

What is sure is that in a matter of six weeks Malta moved from being the “safest country” – always according to Farrugia Portelli – to one which is facing serious consequences on the international stage, given that since then we have had a tsunami of new cases. So much for having “mechanisms” at the ready to prevent this from happening.

The latest surge in numbers has pushed countries to remove Malta from the green list, impose quarantine for anyone who arrived from Malta and/or tell their citizens that it is not recommended that they travel to Malta.

Farrugia Portelli may consider herself unlucky that she took over the responsibility for the tourism industry just weeks before the devastating consequences to travelling brought about by the Coronavirus. Malta has experienced successive years of record tourism numbers, and she may have been looking forward to even better times under her guidance. It was not to be. This year has been tremendously cruel to tourism (and not only this industry).

But mistakes have been committed, and one of the bigger ones is the haste with which we tried to rekindle the economy, in particular the tourism sector, which is intrinsically linked to the entertainment industry. We immediately went for the bigger events, and were even promoting activities which had been shunned by other countries. We thought we had “won the war” because “waves are only in the sea” and we could therefore “enjoy summer” – when the experience in other countries showed that the moment there was a relaxation of restrictions, the number of virus cases picked up again, with more vigour.

Farrugia Portelli allowed herself to be dragged into the pressure that was being mounted by the tourism and catering lobby for a quick return to “normal” times, when it would have been better had we waited some more time and been more prudent.

Resorting to petty politics and speaking of how the vouchers helped the economy is not going to push aside the fact that Malta has gone from being an example to be followed by the international health community to a country that has lost its “safety” status that Farrugia Portelli boasted so much about to the BBC.

The mishandling of the crisis has added more difficulties to hospitality operators which fall under Farrugia Portelli’s political responsibility. It should be a lesson to her to weigh her words carefully and exercise more caution.

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