Coming out of the COVID-19 lockdown must be planned for and executed with great care. The plan to come out of the present situation and to seek a new normal way of life must be data-based and grounded in science and medical/epidemiological expertise.

The idea of a travel bubble coming from the minister for tourism and the main tourism lobby is most welcome. It is also very innovative and might potentially work.

However, in order for it to work without placing the general local population as well as the travelling population and the tourism business working population at great risk of imported COVID-19 it must be based on data and science.

The suggestion made last week to open up Malta to Italy, Sweden, Germany and Israel because they have shown control of the virus is clearly not based on science or data but only on which lobby is strongest.

If Malta had allowed lobbies to direct the pandemic responses instead of the calm and medically-trained health minister and Superintendent for Public Health, we would not have become one of the best among the EU countries.

The following shows the number of deaths per million and the number of cases per million in the EU as on May 10. It groups the 28 (including the UK) into three categories of excellence.

The worst 10 are: 

Country  Deaths/Million Cases/Million
Belgium  747 4,500
Spain  566 5,620
Italy  503 3,610
UK  465 3,171
France 403 2,706
Sweden 319 2,567
Netherlands 316 2,473
Ireland  293 4,609
Luxembourg  161 6,194

The second 10 are:

Country  Deaths/Million Cases/Million
Denmark  91 1,742
Germany  90 2,045
Austria  69 1,762
Slovenia  49 699
Romania  49 799
Finland 48 1,067
Estonia 45 1,311
Hungary  43 338
Czech Republic  26 756
Poland  21 418

The best eight are:

Country  Deaths/Million Cases/Million 
Croatia  21 530
Lithuania  18 543
Greece 14 260
Bulgaria  13 281
Cyprus  12 739
Malta  11 1,110
Latvia  10 498
Slovakia  5 267

What the worst countries have in common is a very high death per million rate which is 50 or 60 times Malta’s rate and a rate of cases per million which is three to six times that of Malta. In this group, we find two of the tourism bubble suggested countries.

These are all over 30 times the rates of Malta, and do we really want to open our borders to these sorts of tourists and visitors before a vaccine is available? 

Asking them to come will be inviting the reintroduction of COVID-19 among the Maltese coming into contact with them on planes, in taxis, restaurants, classrooms, hotels, on beaches or at night clubs.

The second group of countries have in common a death rate per million which is three to nine times that of Malta and a rate of cases per million twice ours in Malta.

In this group, our tourism bubble has included one country with the highest number of cases per million and the second-highest deaths per million which is over nine times the death rate in Malta and two times the number of cases.

It is only the third and best group of countries – to which Malta belongs where it is the third-best country in the EU, only surpassed by Latvia and Slovakia – that should be our focus for a travel corridor or tourism bubble if such a concept is ever adopted.

But do our hoteliers and travel agents want our main competitors from Croatia, Greece or Cyprus, or the citizens of smaller countries that do not know Malta well like Slovakia, Latvia or Lithuania?

No, they want their good customers from the pre-pandemic times to come to drink, sunbathe and make merry and leave their money behind. But we are now in post-pandemic times and, apart from the above, these known clients will also most certainly bring a greater risk of COVID-19.

The bubble, as proposed by our tourism industry, tried to prise Sicily away from Italy, to which it belongs, and, since we cannot create a border between Sicily and Italy, we would be inviting anyone from Italy, the third-worst EU country and of the world, into our bubble. But let’s take Sicily alone.

If we were to include it in our list with 50 deaths per million and 660 cases per million, it would place itself between Austria and Finland at the 14th place out of 28, and five times worse than Malta.

Even Israel was mentioned as a potential bubble member with 29 deaths per million and 1,901 cases per million which would place it between Hungary and the Czech Republic in the second group, and three times worse than Malta.

Thus, data and science speak against the choices made of which countries to include into our bubble. 

Bubbles are a great idea but the one proposed for Malta is only the result of lobbyist pressure by travel agents, the leisure industry, language schools and the gambling sector and as such is a perfect example of placing wealth before health.

Charmaine Gauci and Chris Fearne please do protect us all!

John Vassallo is a former ambassador to the EU.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us