At the end of October, Malta registered the largest increase in customer movements to shops and restaurants, when compared to other European countries.
As the daily number of COVID infections keeps surging across Europe, the situation in Malta remains under control.
National authorities in Europe have been warning of a new wave brought about by the removal of restrictions on social interaction despite struggling vaccination programmes. The result is that countries such as Latvia, Austria, Netherlands and Germany have announced new lockdowns.
While the Maltese have become quite aware of trends in medical data related to the pandemic, knowledge of the economic impact trends remains woefully inadequate. Earlier in October we had a Eurostat news release that pointed out that the volume of retail trade in Malta was up by nearly 20% in August 2021 when compared to the same month a year earlier. This was twenty times better than the result observed for the whole of the EU and was the best result across the whole economic block.
What Google mobility data tell us
However, retail data for August shed little light on what the situation is at present. To get this sort of real-time information, TheJournal.mt looked at Google mobility data. These show how many people (who possess smartphones with Google-enabled apps) visited certain locations during a particular period and how this compares with customer traffic to the same locations before the pandemic struck.
Looking at the latest data, it is clear that life in Malta has largely returned to pre-COVID norms. Customer movement towards shops and restaurants over the last ten days of October has been 17% up on pre-pandemic levels, while that towards groceries and pharmacies was up 20%. Transit on public transport is up 9% even though mobility towards workplaces is still 4% below pre-pandemic levels.
Over the same period, in 2020, customer movement towards shops and restaurants had been 17% below pre-COVID levels, while that towards shops and pharmacies was 5% lower. Use of public transport was down 12% and mobility towards workplaces was 17% below what it had been before the pandemic struck.
Malta in October 2021 is very different from what Malta was in October 2020. There is one big reason for this – the most successful vaccination programme in the world.
Life in Malta has largely returned to pre-COVID norms.
The table below shows what Malta’s success in keeping the pandemic under control is doing to business. According to Google mobility data, Malta has the largest increase in customer traffic towards shops and restaurants in all of Europe. Even Denmark, which has tried to boost trade by removing completely all social distancing and pandemic-related controls, fails to register the same economic results as those achieved by Malta’s finely tuned balance between economic activity and health restrictions.
In neighbouring Italy customer traffic is still 5% below pre-pandemic levels. In Sicily people are much more likely to be at a pharmacy than in a restaurant; the opposite situation to here in Malta.
In the UK the situation is much like it was here in Malta a year ago, while in Latvia retailers and restauranteurs are facing another wipe-out.
Amongst euro area countries, Malta is a complete outlier in terms of economic activity going on. The closest to Malta’s 17% increase in customer traffic is the 2% observed in Portugal. But even here if one focuses on the last days rather than the average for ten days, the small improvement in Portugal has been wiped out, with customer traffic in Lisbon turning sharply negative in recent days.
This last experience shows how crucial it is that we continue to be cautious. The pandemic is not over and to continue to benefit from the calm we have enjoyed in recent months we have to remain vigilant.
The fine balance established by Government is managing to hold the tide and allowing our economy to prosper. If we are to enjoy Christmas, we must maintain this fine balance in place.