Denmark and Norway have become the latest countries to remove Malta from its 'safe travel list', as COVID-19 cases continue to soar.
Eleven countries in Europe have now placed restrictions on the island, with reports in British media that the UK - Malta's largest tourism market - could be next.
From Saturday, Denmark will consider Malta to be a 'banned country'. It means residents of Malta can only enter if they have a worthy purpose.
Travel company Folkeferie, which organises stays for Danish tourists in Mellieħa, said they are now in the process of organising cancellations and refunds for visitors planning trips to Malta.
"We have a great understanding of the guests who were going to Malta for the next two Saturdays. We deeply regret that we cannot make your holiday dreams come true at this time," the company posted on Facebook.
The announcement on Thursday came shortly after Norway joined the spate of countries that have imposed restrictions on travel from Malta this week, introducing quarantine duty upon arrival from Friday, based on the “significantly increasing incidence” of coronavirus cases.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health is going by the number of positive cases per 100,000 in the last two weeks. Malta stands at 58.6 – the highest of five other countries added to a list of ‘red countries’ from where all travellers are now required to self-isolate for 10 days.
Norway comes hot on the heels of restrictions from Italy, one of Malta’s major markets, on arrivals to the mainland, which also apply to current COVID-19 hotbeds, Croatia, Greece and Spain.
As from Friday, all passengers must either present a negative coronavirus test, taken 72 hours before departure, on arrival in Italy, or else do the test within 48 hours from arrival and quarantine until the results come out.
In the case of neighbouring Sicily – a popular destination for locals, and all the more so in pandemic times – Sicilians must self-isolate for 14 days on their return and take a test at the end of their quarantine, as well as register on the www.siciliasicura.com and inform health authorities.
Non-Sicilians will have to register on the website and use the app ‘SiciliaSiCura’ to keep in contact with the regional health service for eventual monitoring and assistance, according to a new ordinance that is in force until September 10.
The Malta spread
Its announcement comes as 150 people are in quarantine in Ragusa after five youths, who had an “intense social life”, contracted the virus in Malta, where “no one was wearing masks”, according to a Sicilian newspaper.
It said Ragusa could become a new COVID-19 hot spot as a result of the five and their trip to Malta, and measures have been taken to curb contagion.
In Syracuse, at least 11 of a group of Sicilians returned to Canicattini Bagni from Malta with the virus, while the Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna and Puglia also introduced restrictions as COVID-19 cases were being imported from the holiday destination.
Impact on the industry
The Tourism Ministry and the Malta Hotels & Restaurants Association have remained mum on the matter, but industry insiders say the impact of the travel restrictions on tourism is “very worrying” and “tough”.
The restrictions obviously act as deterrent to potential visitors, who are likely to choose another destination, but others believe this is a European problem that will be fixed by testing before departure at airports.
“We all have this issue and it needs cooperation and speed to make it easy and quick to get swabbed. Airports will have to find ways to support health authorities to speed this up,” one industry source said.
While it was too early to talk about the actual impact, things were not looking good and a five-star hotel was already seeing cancellations, as well as early departures.
“We never had high expectations for 2020,” said another player in the field. “It is going to be bumpy and move in fits and starts."
Other travel restrictions
The Netherlands and Belgium have also asked visitors to Malta to self-quarantine in view of rising infections, joining Greece and Slovenia in putting restrictions on travellers from the island.
Malta has seen a steep increase in figures in the past weeks, linked to mass events and parties, with the number of active cases standing at 528 when there were just three coronavirus patients left in the country on July 17.
A record number of 55 people in the community tested positive for COVID-19 overnight, bringing up the total number of known virus cases in Malta since March to 1,245.
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