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Network News • 27-05-2021

Will the UK brand us as a ‘green’ country?

Author: George Mangion
Published on The Malta Business Weekly on 27 May 2021

The island is expected to register real GDP growth of 4.6 per cent in 2021 and 6.1 per cent in 2022.  Party apologists rub their hands with glee saying that this projected growth is even better than the EU average.

At a time so close to general elections, a certain patina of feel-good factor can easily be felt on the airwaves.  The Hon Clayton Bartolo tells us our economic recovery is expected to be driven by a rebound in tourism-related services, household consumption and investment.  It is all thanks to an energetic health superintendent who piloted a successful vaccine programme that has accelerated in the last few months.

Hopefully, MTA officials succeed to persuade the UK to include us in the green list for travellers, as our tourism industry is still dependent on this market.  Last week, the local health authorities were discussing with the EU to introduce so-called digital green certificates that will be recognised across all member states.  The European Parliament and EU member states reached a deal paving the way for a COVID-19 certificate that will help open up travel in Europe for the key summer season.

This will be placed for discussion in the EU parliament early next month.  Unlike the certificate issued by the Maltese authorities, which will only include details on whether a person has been vaccinated, the EU one would also include information on tests and previous COVID-19 infections.  While Malta bans mass gatherings, there has been encouraging news from Britain as it cautiously gives permits for mass gatherings under controlled conditions.

It is a good omen that only 15 people out of almost 60,000 who attended nine pilot events for mass gatherings have tested positive for coronavirus.  The Johnson government allowed limited crowds at the events – including two FA Cup games, the World Snooker Championship and the Brit Awards – over recent weeks to assess their impact on COVID-19 transmission.  UK has since March been gradually easing its strict lockdown, with 22,000 football fans permitted inside Wembley Stadium this month for the FA Cup final.   Equally bold is Spain.

Quoting prime minister Pedro Sanchez, it will allow all vaccinated travellers to visit the country starting from June 7, regardless of their country of origin.  In 2020, the number of foreign tourists visiting Spain collapsed by 77% compared with a year earlier, falling below 19 million visitors as pandemic restrictions put the brakes on leisure travel. Spain expects to welcome around 45 million foreign tourists in 2021, just over half the number who came in 2019 before the pandemic struck.

Travellers to Portugal had lifted all restrictions. The list includes passengers from the European Union, the Schengen Area and the United Kingdom.  The return of tourism to Portugal follows a disastrous year for the sector in 2020 and is key to the country’s economic recovery.  Last year tourism accounted for 6.3 per cent of Portuguese GDP, as opposed to 11.8 per cent the previous year.

Back to the subject of a vaccine passport, there are some countries that agree that this could help activate mass travel but countries such as France and Belgium, have also expressed concern that easing travel only for inoculated people would be unfair. The dichotomy is – are we moving forward to liberate travel for the masses even though certain countries continue to limit those who can attain easy access to vaccines.

In particular, one can quote Spain’s tourism minister saying as a country Spain wishes that other countries positively consider a “green corridor” for vaccinated tourists in case there is no EU agreement on vaccination passports. The pressure is mounting on various governments currently facing redundancies and the exorbitant cost of furlough workers particularly connected those with the aviation and hotel sectors.

The reality of losses from tourism suffered by countries such as Cyprus, Malta, Spain and Greece is worrying since these countries had to resort to massive debt mountains to cope with the drop in revenue.  Recently, Denmark announced new steps in its COVID strategy to reopen movements in society.

The virus is deemed under control and its use of a “corona pass” certificate confirms holders have either tested negative in the past 72 hours, or been vaccinated, or recently recovered from COVID-19.  In conclusion, one hopes that with effect from 1st June, our ports will welcome the first wave of tourists using an authentic travel certificate, either digital or on paper.  Visitors will find our streets swept clean and broken street signs fixed by an army of 450 state workers patrolled by the Principal Permanent Secretary – Mario Cutajar.  Spring cleaning arrived late this year.

Author: George Mangion
Published on The Malta Business Weekly on 27 May 2021
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