Abela holidays in Sicily. But in Ireland, COVID-19 trip costs tourism chief his job

At Marina di Ragusa, the PM is filmed in an outdoors spinning class while Malta suffers its highest ever increase in COVID-19 cases

Work it! Robert Abela keeps up his fitness regime at the Marina di Ragusa. The photo at the centre was snapped by a well-wisher
Work it! Robert Abela keeps up his fitness regime at the Marina di Ragusa. The photo at the centre was snapped by a well-wisher

In Ireland, a timely resignation over COVID-19's impact on dwindling tourism has taken place: the chairman of Fáilte Ireland, the national tourism authority, Michael Cawley has resigned after it emerged he was currently on a family holiday in Italy.

The Irish minister for tourism, Catherine Martin, said she was disappointed that Cawley had not acted in solidarity with the industry by flying to Italy when "tourism and hospitality have suffered significant losses since the start of this pandemic".

Although Italy is on the green list, meaning that people who return from there do not have to restrict their movements, the Irish government has called on people to avoid all non-essential travel. "Many of our citizens and residents have followed this guidance at some personal and financial cost to themselves," Martin said.

It could be a cautionary tale designed for Malta’s COVID-19 problems: doctors here are accusing the tourism industry of having contributed to a secondary wave of infections after the government encouraged, or was encouraged, to re-open the doors of tourism.

But as Malta registered its highest ever batch of COVID-19 cases – 72 – Robert Abela was at the Marina di Ragusa in Sicily, where he enjoys boating weekends on his personal boat. And like Donald Trump’s excessive golfing trips, boating while Malta is experiencing a worrying rise of COVID-19 cases after keeping the pandemic at bay, is not a good look for the Prime Minister.

A request for comment on Saturday morning asking the OPM for details on Abela's holiday went unanswered.

By the time Malta’s worrying spike hit the news at 12:30pm on Saturday, a video of Abela – a former bodybuilder – exercising in an outdoors spinning class at the marina, was going viral. Some well-wishers also managed to get some snaps with the PM.

Abela returns to Malta to answer questions on One TV, his party’s station, on Sunday. But he will have to account for the worrying increase in cases, after the Public Health Superintendent appeared cautious about declaring yet again a public health emergency.

Reactions came from PN leadership candidate Adrian Delia, who mocked Abela’s ill-advised derision over a “second wave” with a photo of Abela at the helm of a boat.

“The only waves are at sea… but a rough sea surely. And surely not as stubborn as those privileged with the responsibility of the country, who have thrown all caution to the wind. The captain is seeking safe harbour elsewhere.”

His leadership rival, Bernard Grech, said the Labour government was responsible for the second wave of COVID-19 infections. “It is still giving us the false impression that the pandemic is no longer with us. Our duty is say the truth, always, because the people’s health comes first.”

Partit Demokratiku also called for the immediate resignation of tourism minister Julia Farrugia Portelli, saying her handling of the COVID-19 situation had caused Malta’s tourism product to suffer.

“Hospitality operators have shared with us their grave concerns about the impending fate of the industry, their investments and their employees and their families. The knock-on effect on the Maltese economy, which is intimately connected to the tourism industry, will be devastating if the long term downward spiral of visitor numbers continues,” PD said.

“As a result of the bad handling of the crisis, Malta’s tourism product is suffering. Its reputation shall now be one of an irresponsible party island, and thus damages the objective of attracting high spending quality tourism over quantity.”

The statement came hours after low-cost airline EasyJet announced that it was cancelling all of its package holidays to Malta for the coming weeks.

Malta requires a management team made up of “competent, experienced and qualified persons” who could instil some form of stability for the tourism industry which is haemorrhaging numbers, PD said.

The party said it endorsed the overriding vision as stated in the Ministry of Tourism’s National Tourism Policy 2015-2020 document, promoting “controlled growth, which is achievable through the targeting of appropriate markets with the aim of achieving higher rates of economic returns and returns on investment.”

“Saying that tourism operators’ confidence in the tourism ministry and minister was vital for continued investment,” the PD said, adding that Robert Abela had to replace Farrugia Portelli.

“We therefore appeal to the Prime Minister to do what is expected from him and appoint someone who can get the job done!”