For the second year running June 1 is being hyped up as the day when the country starts reverting to normality following the COVID-19 outbreak which started in March last year. On this day Malta will re-open as a tourist destination as part of a €20 million government recovery plan for this ailing industry.

In his nationwide address announcing the start of the COVID-19- relaxation measures Prime Minister Robert Abela insisted that decisions were being based on scientific considerations. Yet, the June 1 milestone immediately raised eyebrows. It was on that day last year when Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne made the infamous declaration that Malta “had won the war” against the virus – a statement which proved to be ill-timed, rash and presumptuous. What followed in the ‘post-war’ period which was characterised by a false sense of security fuelled by the government was much more lethal and contagious than anybody had forecast. To date the death toll exceeded 400 while the total number of cases is shy of 30,000.

Unfortunately, it was only last month when the situation was truly desperate and the health service on the brink of collapse that government took belated action. The dramatic decrease in active cases which followed, only served to vindicate those – including the medical professionals – who had advocated a more prudent approach from the very beginning. In this respect, it beggars belief how the Prime Minister claimed that Malta was the “best in the world” with respect to its handling of the pandemic. Evidently, he was in complete oblivion to the situation in countries like New Zealand where the number of new cases have been in single figures for months.

Looking ahead, the Medical Association of Malta has already warned that the current practice of random swabbing on arrival is insufficient and presents significant risks as this is no guarantee infected passengers will not enter the island.   UHM subscribes to the doctors’ proposal that passengers must be in possession of negative test results or vaccine certificates in order to be allowed to travel. Doctors are also calling a cautious approach and avoid repeating certain mistake.

Looking ahead, there seems to be a sense of déjà vu. Last year, we were promised that “mechanisms” would be in place to crackdown any infected persons travelling to the island. Meanwhile, the island was being promoted as a party destination with complete disregard to health protocols. Footage of party revellers flouting COVID-19 regulations is still fresh in our minds. The Malta Tourism Authority has recently denied claims that the island was once again being promoted for such events. Yet, tickets are already on sale for a mega event, known as the Lost and Found Festival, which is being advertised on the internet. The four-day festival is scheduled for the first four-days of September in St Paul’s Bay. Meanwhile two other large scale events have cropped up – The Glitch Festival 2021 is planned for mid-August, and Drumcode Festival also for September. 

Are these events being organised in breach of the public health authorities? If yes, we expect concrete action to nip such initiatives at the bud. If the government means business, distancing itself saying such events do not have its “blessing” is a very weak response indeed. This a form of misleading advertising in terms of the Consumer Affairs Act if no green light was given by the government?  How about taking legal action to stop Malta being promoted as party island with the rest of the world?  Have not we learnt our lesson and paid the ultimate price after throwing caution to the wind last summer? We are once again at a cross-road. To err is human, but to persist in error is diabolical. Let us not allow history to repeat itself.