I had decided to move to Malta in December, planning to move in April. I had co-founded an education consultancy company, Boom Malta, in July 2019 with some close friends and wanted to support the business and of course enjoy a sunny Mediterranean after many years living in the UK and Belgium.
As time passed and Covid-19 appeared increasingly frequently on the news, I started to get nervous. I was afraid I would not be able to move. I then decided to move in 72 hours. I have moved some 20 times in my life but never on such short notice. I managed to sell most of my furniture and my bike to some guy that had to go to Lille but could not go by train. I booked a plain ticket the day before Belgium locked down, arriving to Malta 3 days before the airport closed. Which is to say, I made it just in time.
Once I arrived in Malta, I had to do a 2-week mandatory quarantine. Malta never declared a lock-down, except for some 120,000 of its most vulnerable citizens and for people coming from abroad. Yet the island was quiet – people were simply being responsible. Except some bikers who decided to make the most of the reduced traffic by racing in the islands’ expressways. Upon arriving to the flat I had rented back in February, I was surprised to see a wonderful welcome basket from my landlord – needless to say none of my previous landlords had provided such a nice “attention”.
In those 2 weeks I managed to start getting things done to get my official residency and discovered a plethora of online services to deliver everything from food to DIY material. Most governmental services in Malta are accessible online and there is a centralised help centre to help you understand the country’s (somewhat complicated) bureaucracy. I also found out that despite the temperatures being mild during the day my flat was cold as soon as the sun dipped – part of me was missing the central heating from my Brussels flat.
Two weeks after arriving I could finally go out and explore. First thing I did was to go and get some 8 or 9 20-30kg boxes I had sent from Brussels through the post – they constituted, in fact, all my possessions. Every single one of them arrived, albeit some in poor state due to some very bad packing on my end. I also began discovering the different beaches and going to the sea almost daily.
In the meantime, I was following local news and was glad to have arrived in the European country that managed the Covid-19 crisis the best. With only 9 deceased for some 665 cases, Malta has fared extraordinarily well for a country with a large share of an older population. The secret to their success was the swift reaction of the authorities in closing the island, the isolation of most vulnerable people and the third highest rate of Covid-19 testing in the world. Malta also repatriated several thousand foreigners that were stranded. While “non-essential” shops were closed, some economic activities continued and people were always prompt to respect government directives related to Covid-19.
Support for businesses was quickly mobilised and consequential in terms of their size, representing some 22% of GDP and making Malta the world’s largest spender on Covid-19 relief measures in proportion to their GDP. This is crucial in a small island depending on tourism for 30% of its GDP and goes towards helping companies pay salaries, rent, tax relief…A few months after Covid-19 hit Malta and except for the ubiquitous face masks and hygienic gel, you would not know there has even been a pandemic.
I feel extremely lucky to have choose Malta as my destination, as my experience of moving during the pandemic would probably be different if I had decided to move to the UK or Brazil. I think the advantage of being a small island state is evident but should also serve as a lesson for the future: decisive action in early stages of a crisis as well as ambitiously responding to challenges raised are key to weathering an emergency and emerging relatively unscathed.