Updated Friday with MHRA, Malta Chamber statements
The UK has finally added Malta to its quarantine-free green list, in a major boost to the hard-hit tourism industry.
Thursday evening's announcement will come as a relief to the sector, with the UK, traditionally Malta's largest market, welcoming in 650,000 British travellers in 2019. Malta is among 16 destinations added in a list which included no large tourist hotspots.
Shortly after the UK’s announcement, the Maltese government said that to safeguard the health of residents and tourists, UK arrivals have to present a vaccine certificate as from June 30. The certificate has to be recognised by the Superintendence of Health.
All other arrivals from the UK without a certificate will have to quarantine. The decision, the government said, is being taken because of the variants reported in the UK.
There has been growing concern about the spread of the Delta variant, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel leading calls for travellers from the UK to be quarantined wherever they arrive in the EU.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that from June 30, Malta will join a number of other countries and regions on the UK's new green list.
Northern Ireland and Scotland appeared to have upstaged the announcement, by earlier announcing Malta was among the new additions to their green lists.
Prior to much-anticipated update, Malta failed to make it onto the green list twice despite having the lowest case and death rates and fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe.
In recent weeks, the number of new COVID-19 cases have spiked in the UK as a result of the rapid spread of the Delta variant. So far, the Maltese authorities have only detected one Delta variant case.
The UK is currently on Malta's amber list, meaning travel between the two countries is allowed as long as those travelling present either a Maltese vaccine certificate or a negative PCR test result taken no longer than 72 hours from arrival.
Government sources told Times of Malta that despite the island not being on the green list, the demand among British holidaymakers for trips to Malta was still high.
In recent weeks, tourists from the UK still opted to travel to Malta for their holidays even though they then had to quarantine upon their return home.
Before the pandemic, the UK had traditionally been Malta's biggest tourism market, with thousands of tourists holidaying on the island every year.
Locally, the travel and tourism sector contributed €2.03 billion to GDP in 2019, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), accounting for approximately 17 per cent of GDP.
Earlier this year, the UK was among the last countries to be added to Malta's amber list after the March closures, with Britons only allowed back at the end of April.
And last week, Air Malta announced it was cancelling all its flights to Manchester and cutting its flight frequency to London Heathrow to six times a week, following the UK government's previous decision to keep Malta off the green list.
UK green list rules
If you are a Maltese traveller going to England you must:
• take a COVID-19 test
• book and pay for a day 2 COVID-19 test – to be taken after arrival in England
• complete a passenger locator form
You must also take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 following arrival.
Children aged 4 and under do not need to take this test.
You do not need to quarantine unless the test result is positive or if someone travelling with you has tested positive for COVID-19.
You must follow these rules even if you have been vaccinated.
MHRA welcomes greenlighting, calls for relaxation of protocol
UK's greenlighting of travel to Malta was a "well-deserved result" of efforts by all stakeholders, according to the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association.
The association commended the efforts spearheaded by the government in "creating the right balance between the economy, health and well-being of all".
"This indeed is a success story. But the challenges are not yet over. MHRA appeals to all involved not to let the guards down whilst the relaxation of certain protocols by the health authorities is now important in order to ensure that hospitality operations are run smoothly and hence service excellence is ensured," MHRA said, without elaborating further.
The association also called on the authorities to adopt policies that fast track the recruitment of foreign workers to sustain the operations of hotels and restaurants.
Malta Chamber calls for strict restrictions at ports
The Malta Chamber meanwhile welcomed the government’s decision to allow in only vaccinated UK travellers, re-iterating its call for strict restrictions at the points of entry, especially at the airport.
According to the chamber, this would allow the tourism industry to continue recovering in a safe manner without compromising recent efforts.
“This is a significant development as the British market is Malta’s largest, and the UK’s decision confirms the remarkable progress in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Malta,” head of the chamber's tourism section Alan Arrigo said in a statement, adding that strict observance of health protocols remained critical.