Malta welcomed almost 60,000 visitors in January, a major increase on the same month last year but a far cry from pre-pandemic levels.

The data released by the National Statistics Office on Tuesday comes as health authorities face pressure from hoteliers and the Malta International Airport to scrap all remaining travel restrictions.

In January 2020, months before COVID-19 hit Malta, some 150,000 tourists arrived in the country, dropping dramatically to just under 14,000 in January 2021 and rising to almost 60,000 in January 2022.

Since July 2021, only fully vaccinated people can travel to Malta without quarantining, with thorough checks of documents at the airport often leading to long delays. 

On Tuesday, the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association demanded authorities "allow people to travel freely", while Malta International Airport CEO Alan Borg said the rules are putting the country "at a disadvantage".

The NSO figures also spell out the cost to the economy. Total tourism expenditure in January was €47 million, up from €12 million in the same month last year but half the €94 million registered in January 2020.

The largest share of visitors to the country in January (44%) were aged between 25 and 44, followed by the 45-64 age bracket (28%). Tourists were most likely to come from Poland or Italy, stay in rented accommodation and spend 9.7 nights per stay.

Health Minister Chris Fearne has suggested vaccine travel rules could soon be relaxed to allow people to enter the country with a negative COVID-19 test, but the tough measures remain in place. 

Meanwhile, a new subvariant of Omicron is helping to drive COVID-19 cases up in Malta, with 333 new cases recorded on Tuesday, the highest daily figure since mid-January. 

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