The Malta Tourism Authority has urged governments including the UK to “analyse the figures intelligently” before imposing travel restrictions on the country.

National media reports suggest Malta could be removed from the UK government’s ‘safe lists’ of destinations because of a rise in the country’s infection rates.

But the tourist board called on countries to respect Malta’s humanitarian efforts, and said 101 of the 249 current cases were migrants it had rescued off the coast.

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A statement from the Malta Tourism Authority said: “Even before reopening our borders, we have worked hard to ensure the safety of our citizens and people who want to come to our shores. Our healthcare system and handling of the virus have received praise from numerous sources including the European Commission, the Commonwealth, the World Health Organisation, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

“We have protocols in place that ensure that people remain socially distanced, face coverings are worn, temperature checks are taken, thermal screening is in place at all ports for all arrivals by air and by sea, and we have cancelled all major festivals while all small events have been regulated.

The organisation said Malta had recorded nine Covid-related deaths since the pandemic struck, and noted that of the 249 active cases – three are in hospital and 13 are in medical centres with “the rest recovering at home”. Aside from the migrant cases, 20 new cases have been confirmed since August 5, the authority added, “and we have traced the source of these”.  Two weeks ago there were six active cases.

A number of festivals due to take place on the island this summer were cancelled earlier this week.

“As we have openly reported, there has been an increase in confirmed cases of Covid-19 recently which we are taking very seriously,” the statement added. “Our contact tracing system is working well, we have increased swabbing and are recruiting more nurses to conduct more tests.

“Malta in fact has one of the highest, if not the highest testing rates in Europe. As a result, we have quickly identified where these cases are linked to and those affected are in quarantine. We want to make sure that Maltese citizens and tourists feel safe in Malta and ensuring that we continue testing as well as contact tracing and quarantining where necessary is key to our efforts to manage this virus.”

Addressing the number of infections among migrants rescued from the Mediterranean, the statement said: “It is the right and humanitarian thing to rescue boats of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, however this obviously affects the number of new cases in Malta overall and it would be very unfair if we were penalised for answering their distress signal.

“Tourism is important for us, but the safety of our people and the people who visit us is more important and we would never put people in jeopardy, as demonstrated by our quick and decisive actions in the early stages of the pandemic in Europe.

“The small number of cases in Malta vis-a-vis the size of the population can easily give a skewed impression of the actual situation, more so if the numbers are seen out of context. We trust that all governments will analyse the figures intelligently and we are open to all discussions to ensure that we can mitigate any concern.”

Malta was removed from Ireland’s green list of safe destinations this week, meaning Irish visitors returning from holidays there have to quarantine for 14 days.

Belgium is among the other countries reportedly set to be removed from the UK government’s safe lists of travel destinations.

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