VALLETTA (Reuters) – Malta reopened restaurants for lunch on Monday after the island’s health minister said the COVID-19 vaccination drive had reached 60% of the adult population and cases were down.
Restaurants were closed two months ago when case numbers hit a record 510 on March 10 and the Mediterranean island of about 450,000 people tightened restrictions with an eye to reopening for tourism on June 1.
Malta has led one of the most aggressive vaccination campaigns in the European Union. The island reported 11 new COVID-19 cases on Monday.
On Sunday, Health Minister Chris Fearne tweeted that 60% of the adult population had received at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, more than double the EU average, with vaccination efforts now focused on people in their 30s.
Non-essential services and retail outlets were allowed to reopen on April 26 and Malta also announced a scheme to pay up to 200 euros to tourists in Malta during the summer. But efforts appeared to take a knock on Friday when Britain kept the island off its Green List of safe tourism destinations.
Tourism is a major contributor to Malta’s GDP and British tourists account for a quarter of arrivals. The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association said the omission could deal a blow to the start of the summer season.
Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo told the media “the Maltese government will continue working hard to assure that Malta is included in the next review” of the British tourism list, due by the end of May.
Malta will also remove mandatory wearing of face masks at beaches and around pools on June 1.
(Reporting by Christopher Scicluna; Editing by Janet Lawrence)