VALLETTA (Reuters) – Malta will reopen its airport to passenger flights on July 1, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Sunday, as the Mediterranean island rolls back restrictions introduced in March to halt COVID-19 infections.
Tourism accounts for almost a quarter of Malta’s economy and hoteliers have been pressing the government to reopen the airport or risk mass unemployment.
The southern Mediterranean island has recorded some 600 coronavirus cases and nine deaths, having carried out an intensive testing and contact tracing program. Non-essential shops and restaurants were allowed to reopen in mid-May, but churches on the Roman Catholic island and schools remain closed. Bars and gyms will reopen next Friday.
“These are exciting time for Malta. We are returning to normality,” Abela said.
He said the government will also announce a budget on June 8 with the aim of encouraging consumption and investment. The budget is normally announced in October.
The government has been paying 800 euros ($888) per month per employee in order to discourage layoffs in companies impacted by the virus and says it will maintain the scheme until the economy picks up again.
Tourism authorities are negotiating ‘safe corridors’ for travel with countries which have low COVID-19 numbers, including Luxembourg, Norway, Serbia, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania and Israel.
They have not yet given the green light for travelers from Britain, which traditionally has close tourism ties to Malta.
($1 = 0.9011 euros)
(Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer, Kirsten Donovan)