Malta International AIrport

“At this crucial point in time, when many are geared to travel for the Christmas holidays, our industry needs stability, which ultimately gives travellers the confidence to go ahead with their travel plans,” said a spokesperson for Malta International Airport (MIA) when asked about the impacts of the latest ‘variant of concern’.

Indeed, last week, the World Health Organisation classed the latest variant of COVID-19, known as Omicron, as a “variant of concern”. This prompted a barrage of new travel restrictions imposed by Governments that fear repeating the mistakes of 2020.

In Europe, many countries, including Malta, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece and France have essentially banned travel to and from South Africa and neighbouring countries, while other European nations have imposed mandatory quarantine. The UK has gone a step further by adding restrictions on all arrivals by imposing quarantine until passengers receive results of a PCR test taken on their second day in the country.

The aviation industry was among the worst impacted by COVID-19, and, summer 2021 saw some much-needed recovery with vaccine levels increasing, travel restrictions waning and consumer confidence boosted. Now, the emergence of the Omicron variant risks undoing months of slow recovery.

BusinessNow.mt turned to Malta International Airport to understand the impact of the latest variant so far, and what the sentiment on the ground is.

A spokesperson said that so far, passenger numbers are in line with the expectations MIA had for the current month prior to the emergence of the new variant.

“It is still too early to comment on the impact of this variant on passenger numbers, especially since this is highly dependent on how different countries will react in terms of travel restrictions.”

On this note, the World Health Organisation appears to be in line with MIA’s sentiments, when on Tuesday it called for countries to keep calm and take “rational” measures in response to the new, fast-spreading COVID variant, which has sparked global panic.

The UN health agency warned that the abrupt introduction of such travel restrictions could lead to an unfair situation and may also dissuade surveillance of new variants by national Governments.

From the aviation industry’s perspective, the MIA spokesperson said “any disruptions arising from the introduction of new restrictions will not just have an immediate impact on passenger numbers during the upcoming holidays but will also have a more far-reaching effect on the summer months.

“This, since January already sees many people booking their summer holidays.”

Much like the rest of Europe, Malta is experiencing a spike in daily COVID transmissions. On Tuesday, the country registered an increase of 106 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours, the highest this month.

However, the number of virus patients in hospital remains markedly low, with just 12 patients being treated at Mater Dei Hospital, two of which are in ITU.

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