[WATCH] Bartolo defends tourism restart plan amid COVID-19 surge: 'We will adjust if necessary'

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo says that the most recent measure to impose quarantine on unvaccinated incoming travellers could not have been introduced earlier because of EU commitments

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo
Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo

Clayton Bartolo says the most recent measure to impose quarantine on unvaccinated incoming travellers could not have been introduced earlier because of EU commitments.

He defended government’s tourism reopening strategy in the wake of a COVID-19 surge in cases, which coincided with the lifting of travel restrictions.

The Tourism Minister said the government will continue with its tourism recovery plan but adjust it in response to the pandemic.

Asked by MaltaToday why wasn’t the most recent restriction to impose a 14-day quarantine on unvaccinated travellers introduced as a condition from the start, Bartolo insisted Malta had to respect the EU-wide agreement for travel arrangements.

“This measure could not have been taken before because there was an understanding with the European Commission on how things should move forward. We first had to introduce the system of allowing people to travel to Malta if they are vaccinated or have a negative PCR test. Once we saw that measure was not effective we could go to the next one and only accept [without the need to quarantine] tourists who are vaccinated,” Bartolo said.

Active cases rose exponentially over the past three weeks in Malta mimicking the trend overseas. The surge in numbers has been blamed on the more contagious Delta variant, first discovered in India, which coincided with the lifting of restrictions across Europe.

Malta, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Luxembourg and some other European regions, were placed on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control red-list as a result of the surge in cases. The ECDC classification serves as a guideline for EU member states but has no immediate impact on travel restrictions, which remain the sole prerogative of individual countries.

Government also closed English language schools after the initial surge in numbers was caused by young unvaccinated students.

Bartolo said the government did not want to discriminate between different categories of tourists and the students had entered Malta in line with the travel rules at the time.

He said other countries that were opening to tourism also experienced an increase in infection numbers.

“We will continue with the recovery plan and adjust it accordingly. When we took the decision to accept vaccinated tourists we wanted to prioritise health over tourism. This led to cancellations in the case of tourists who were expected to arrive in this period but it also encouraged those who are booked in the coming months to take the vaccine,” the Tourism Minister said.

Data made available to the Times of Malta by the Health Ministry shows that approximately 60% of the daily COVID-19 cases are non-residents and a quarter of active cases were students who came to study English.