A plan to reopen Malta International Airport in July has been welcomed by doctors but slammed by hoteliers, who are demanding an earlier date.

A ban on commercial flights is currently in place until June 15, but multiple sources have told Times of Malta the airport is expected to be given the go-ahead to start operating again on July 15.

Martin Balzan, president of the Medical Association of Malta, welcomed the move, saying it was a "more cautious approach" than if it were to reopen in June.

"I know Malta depends on tourism, but I'm glad to see more weight is being given to health," he said.

"I know this decision will not help hotel and restaurant owners, but we'll have to monitor the numbers of COVID19 cases being reported over the next month and a half, and see if it's still the right decision to reopen closer to the time."

Balzan was among the first people to call for flights to Bergamo, to shut down in March as cases grew in Northern Italy. 

He is now also against the idea, mooted by Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli, for safe corridors between nations

"While Sicily has reported zero cases in recent days, that doesn't stop people transferring in airports through other more infected countries and making their way to Malta. Safe corridors have problems."

There was a completely different response from the nurses union to a July reopening. Paul Pace, President of Malta's Union of Midwives and Nurse, said they were "very against it". 

"There are simply too many questions that haven't been answered. How are people going to social distance on planes? If tourists come and test positive will they go into quarantine? What about tour operators, are they going to keep to groups of six or smaller? It feels like it is one rule for tourists and another rule for the Maltese."

'Simply not acceptable'

Tony Zahra, president of the Malta Hotel and Restaurant Association, strongly disagrees with a mid-July opening date.

"Waiting until July is simply not acceptable as we will miss the summer. Other countries like Greece, Cyprus and Spain are reopening in June, so why can't we?" he asked.

Zahra said the hotel industry is now completely decimated. And while he says government measures to financially help those who are out of work are welcomed, he believes the sooner the airport reopens, the less painful it will be for everyone.

"I don't want to get into another argument about health versus wealth. But I think we can open the airport in a responsible way and use certain protocols like we have been doing in restaurants. We have thousands of people employed in these industries, we can't stay closed forever."

The Malta Chamber of Commerce said the reopening of the airport would be a "welcome development" but said it would only make sense if tourists did not have to go into quarantine. 

"Any imposition of quarantine time would mean that effectively traffic through the airport would remain unsustainable."

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