After nearly four months of having an empty terminal, except for repatriation flights, Malta International Airport will symbolically re-open its doors today.
The airport, Malta’s only air link to other countries, was closed in March as the Coronavirus pandemic started to hit the islands. At that time, the cases that were being registered in Malta were all imported, in the sense that they were affecting people who had travelled to places where the virus was already making its presence felt.
It made sense to close the airport – and the ports. Some say that we took longer than we should have to do so. It must be agreed that closing the airport was one of the most economically painful decisions that the government took. But it was the most logical in order to protect our collective health.
As time went by, the number of imported cases gradually dropped to zero, while the number of locally-transmitted cases started to rise. Now, even the latter has been brought under control, as the number of new cases registered in the past days was negligible. It is therefore time to re-connect Malta to the rest of the world.
We all know that the tourism sector is one of the mainstays of our economy. And we all know that many Maltese like to travel. The re-opening of the airport makes it possible again. After the government relaxed measures to re-ignite the economy for the locals – the re-opening of bars, restaurants etc – this is the last restriction that is being lifted.
But it is not as easy as it seems. We cannot just snap our fingers and expect travelling to return to what it was before the Coronavirus hit. For example, many people are still afraid to travel, and this will certainly have an effect on the passenger numbers, both incoming and outgoing. In spite of all the precautions that are being taken to make travelling as safe as possible, many have opted not to go abroad this year.
Another thing that needs to be kept in mind is that although the situation in Malta has thankfully been brought under control, this cannot be said for many countries, including those from where we receive many of our tourists and which are mostly frequented by the Maltese. Travelling restrictions will still be in place for these countries; and they will only be removed later.
Today’s re-opening will not be without its risks. This is because it will take little for the virus to rear its head again in Malta. It happened to other countries too – they brought the situation under control, re-opened their borders, and the number of cases started to grow again. Some were forced to re-introduce restrictions that they had just lifted. We cannot exclude that this situation will not happen to Malta too.
We have been told that Malta is prepared for such an eventuality. It is a chance we have to take because, from an economic point of view, Malta cannot continue to remain isolated from the rest of the world.
Let us hope that this will not come to be or that, if it does, the situation will remain manageable, both with regard to our health, and with regard to our economy.
We’re keeping our fingers crossed.
Original article found on The Malta Independent