The Malta Independent 2 March 2021, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: The PM and Covid – An obsession that could prove costly

Wednesday, 27 January 2021, 07:51 Last update: about 2 months ago

Maybe the Prime Minister is an optimistic man who always sees the glass as being half full. Maybe he wants to instil confidence in the country as it seeks to overcome the crisis brought about by the pandemic. Or maybe he is denial and has not yet grasped the extent of the negative effects Covid-19 has had on the economy.

When Robert Abela speaks, almost daily, that “there are major economic consequences” in other countries and that Malta, as if we somehow form part of a different world, is ready to start running as soon as the pandemic is over, he perhaps does not know that our hotels are empty, restaurants are closing down, retail outlets are not selling and bars and clubs – which have been singled out as the scapegoats – are in a desperate financial situation.

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Let’s take a quick look at some numbers which, it seems, the Prime Minister is unaware of or trying to ignore.

Malta International Airport said it ended 2020 with just 1,748,050 passenger movements, translating in a drop of 76.1 per cent over 2019.

Total cruise passengers for 2020 stood at 59,018, a decrease of 92.3 per cent over 2019, the National Statistics Office said.

With regard to the number of tourist arrivals, which cover between January and November so far, we know from the NSO that inbound tourist trips amounted to just 645,626, a decrease of 75.2 per cent over the same period in 2019. Total nights spent by inbound tourists reached nearly 5.0 million, a drop of 72.7 per cent when compared to the same period of 2019. Total tourism expenditure reached nearly €442.0 million, 79.2 per cent less than that recorded during the same period in 2019. Total expenditure per capita stood at €685, a decrease of 15.8 per cent when compared to the same period in 2019.

And, with regard to internal tourism, in 2020, NSO figures show that vehicle movements between Malta and Gozo decreased by 230,771 or 12.9 per cent, over the previous year, while the number of passengers went down by 2,143,799 or 36.2 per cent.

Of course, these numbers are not a surprise. But they also indicate that in spite of reopening the airport and easing access from Malta to Gozo, many are still afraid to travel. We might not be on lockdown, as Abela likes to boast, but we are not living in normal times and the situation is not under control.

Matters have not improved at the turn of the year and they are unlikely to do so anytime soon. The number of new and active Covid-19 cases is still high in Malta and, if they remain so both here and in mainland Europe, from where we get most of our tourists, then 2021 will likely be very similar to 2020. The government has so far been of support to the private industry, but we do not know if this will continue to be sustainable beyond March.

The Prime Minister’s insistence that he wants Malta to be the first to recover from the pandemic is an obsession that could cost us dearly. Other countries know they need to take a cautious approach as the recovery will be long and arduous, but Abela seems to know better than more seasoned European leaders.

 

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