Updated 7.22pm - Adds MHRA, PN reaction
Malta failed to make it to the UK's travel green list when the latest update was announced on Thursday.
No countries were added to the list, and Portugal, which was put on the green list three weeks ago, was relegated to amber.
The announcement is a blow to Malta's tourism sector which usually depends on UK visitors for a major chunk of its business. The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) said it felt 'frustrated by the UK decision and wondered whether it was based on political rather than scientific considerations.
Malta had hoped to make it to the list since it has the lowest coronavirus case rate in the EU, according to ECDC data, and one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.
Ahead of the announcement, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo said: “I am confident we have done everything we can and now the decision is in the hands of the UK government."
The list is important because travellers to green-listed destinations are not required to quarantine on their return to the UK.
The UK issued its first green list three weeks go, featuring only one major European travel destination within it - Portugal, including the Azores and Madeira. The other destinations on that list were Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands and Israel.
The UK Transport Secretary said that Portugal had been taken off the green list in the interest of public safety since the positivity rate in virus tests in Portugal had doubled. There were also concerns about a so-called Nepal mutation of the Indian variant of the virus, about which not much was known so far.
Malta is rated amber, meaning arrivals must self-isolate at home for 10 days, or fewer if they record a negative COVID-19 test after five days.
Meanwhile has so far kept the UK on its amber list, meaning travellers need to produce a negative PCR test or a vaccination certificate before boarding the plane for Malta.
While half of UK adults have had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, the number of new cases in England is also the highest in weeks, driven by the spread of a variant first identified in India.
Asked about concerns about this variant, Bartolo said Malta should rest assured the country was opening to tourism in a gradual and safe manner.
“I am ensuring that tourism is happening in a safe way which won’t compromise the standards reached so far in our managing of the pandemic,” he said.
He also added that protocols were in place at the airport to ensure people entering the country would not pose a risk to the population.
As regards bilateral agreements over a vaccination certificate, Bartolo said he was currently in talks with EU countries over the matter and would be discussing the issue with countries outside of Europe in the days to come.
Currently Malta only recognises its own vaccine certificate for arrivals.
MHRA questions UK decision
In a statement, the MHRA said it felt frustrated by the UK decision.
It said there appeared to be no apparent scientific and logical reason for the decision as Malta was excelling in its management of COVID-19 and met all the criteria as laid down by the British government.
"The British market represented 33 per cent of all tourist arrivals in 2019 and losing this market at one go will significantly affect the tourism industry," it said.
It questioned whether the British government was taking political decisions that undermined the decades-old free movement of trade and services rather than decisions based on a scientific basis.
It called on the EU to support the hospitality industry and to ensure it safeguarded one of the major freedoms of the union.
PN offers to help, urges industry support
The PN expressed its disappointment over the UK decision and offered to help the government in diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue.
It said the decision was a blow to the tourism industry, and it therefore urged the government to continue to support the sector.
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