July 1, 2020 / 8:01 AM / 6 days ago

Malta reopens airport in a bid to rescue tourism

VALLETTA, July 1 (Reuters) - Malta reopened its airport on Wednesday to allow visitors from several European countries, but the move will not include Britain, which accounts for 30% of the island’s tourist arrivals.

The reopened connections include cities in France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

“We hope to welcome 700,000 tourists by the end of the year,” Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli told a news conference on Tuesday.

The figure is a far cry from the 2.7 million who visited Malta last year, contributing a quarter of the country’s output. Farrugia Portelli said talks were underway to widen the list of destinations, particularly Britain.

Tony Zahra, president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, said he expected a slow start with possibly 15% of arrivals in July compared to the same month last year.

Malta “could no longer keep the airport closed,” he said.

Travel was banned in March due to the spread of the coronavirus in Europe. Restrictions on economic activities, including bars and restaurants, were eased early in June.

Malta has had only two new COVID-19 cases in the last week, and health authorities said they are treating only 26 active cases. Nine people have died of the virus.

“Malta is being advertised as a safe country”, Farrugia Portelli said, adding that tourists arriving in Malta will not need to quarantine.

Social distancing will be enforced at Malta’s airport, all travellers will have to wear masks or visors inside the terminal and thermal cameras will be used to screen passengers. (Reporting by Chris Scicluna, Editing by Giulia Segreti and Angus MacSwan)

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