The Malta Independent 5 August 2021, Thursday

TMIS Editorial - Covid travel: Chaos and a PR disaster

Sunday, 18 July 2021, 10:30 Last update: about 18 days ago

The past two weeks have been truly chaotic with regard to Covid-19 and travel, with the scenario changing so fast and often that it was hard, if not impossible to keep up.

The rapid changes did not only leave us scratching our heads but also gave Malta a bad name abroad, with many who dreamed of coming to our country this summer being left greatly disappointed.

Up until recently, tourists were allowed to come to Malta either with a vaccine certificate or with a negative PCR test. When travel was finally allowed from the UK, Brits were told that they could only come if they had a vaccine certificate recognised by the Maltese authorities.

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Many UK would-be tourists were dismayed to learn that, up until that point, Malta only recognised its own vaccine certificates. Then they were told that the NHS certificate was to be allowed as well, but some people were stopped from boarding planes to Malta because they had been given the Indian-made version of the Astra Zeneca vaccine. That decision has now changed too, and all vaccines approved by the UK authorities are now permitted.

Then, when the cases started to spike, the Maltese government announced that only people who are fully vaccinated can come to our island, earning it a rebuke from the European Commission.

More changes were afoot, with the government announcing that Maltese who were already abroad could return to Malta even with just a negative PCR test.

Next, in an apparent attempt to appease the EU, the authorities announced that people who have not yet been fully vaccinated can still travel to Malta, on condition that they have to quarantine for 14 days before actually starting their holiday. Which is ludicrous, of course, because no one in their right mind would add an extra two weeks to their holiday, which they would spend locked up in a hotel room, and for which they would have to pay.

When one considers that the average tourist stays in Malta for a week and spends around €900, it is very clear that no one would triple their length of stay and expenditure in Malta, especially if the first two weeks are to be spent in quarantine.

What happened over the past couple of weeks was a PR disaster for Malta’s tourism image and has, without a doubt, dissuaded many potential tourists from visiting Malta this summer.

The situation is made worse by the fact that the authorities were fully aware that the re-opening of tourism would lead to a spike in cases. It’s not like we didn’t know this would happen. Yet the way Malta has reacted to the current boom in Covid cases has left so much to be desired.

Amid the developing chaos, we cannot but not the total silence by the Tourism Minister.

Worse still, the authorities were not providing any real information about the new cases. It was only on Friday that a breakdown of the previous day’s cases started being included in the daily infographic released on the Sahha Facebook page.

In the absence of such information, it is impossible to know which age groups and clusters are being affected and, thus, which places and activities we should avoid.

Professor Charmaine Gauci certainly deserved a break after the last 16 months, but it is high time that she returned to brief us on what’s going on. We have always been firm believers that the public has the right to know.

The fact that information is so scarce nowadays has also led to the victimisation of some sectors.

While many have assumed that the vast majority of this week’s cases were English language students, this was not the case.

For example, out of the 222 cases found on Wednesday (announced Thursday), around half were tourists. Even then, not all of them were ELT students.

A photo that was doing the rounds on social media was claimed to show a large group of Italian students who are in Malta to study English. Many of them were not wearing masks. But this newsroom has established that this group actually had nothing to do with the ELT market and this was an ordinary tourist group brought to Malta by a tourism agency.

We acknowledge that the Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented in terms of scale and time, and that there is no playbook for such a scenario. But we seem to keep repeating the same mistake – that of reacting to a surge in cases with knee-jerk reactions that make no sense, and which change once, twice if not more times in a day, leading to total confusion.

By the time this editorial gets printed, the situation might have changed once more. We truly hope that this is not the case. We also hope that the travel situation settles down and that some form of normality can resume. Moreover, we hope that the damage done to the tourism sector can be reversed before summer’s end.

 

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