IF IT wasn’t for my partner’s decision to book a last-minute flight change, a long-weekend break in Malta could have turned into a 14-day quarantine in a hotel we had no hope of affording.

But this was less a trip of inconvenience and more of an eye-opening experience, comparing how seriously other counties are taking the coronavirus pandemic compared to the UK.

The drama started the moment the plane touched down. A throng of people headed for the exit doors, only to be told they weren’t allowed to leave. Not until we had all filled out a form of our personal details. Name, address, travelling party, where we’d be staying in Malta. The captain apologised. He had no idea about these new measures.

Leaving the plane, we were greeted by six foot tall banners reading, ‘STOP NOVEL CORONAVIRUS’.

Shortly after passing passport control were subject to a thermal body scanner, screening for high temperatures. No-one explained where those with a fever would be taken to.

Meanwhile, we passed TV screens showing the latest travel regulations. Just 24 hours earlier, the prime minister had announced that anyone arriving from the likes of France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland would be subject to an immediate quarantine. Police would be spot-checking for compliance and handing out on-the-spot fines.

The tell-tail signs of a global pandemic weren’t consigned to just the airport. Pharmacies, banks and even some shops and cafes had taped off areas behind which customers were required to stand. The staff within were wearing latex gloves, plus facemasks in some cases, and more than once we were told we had to pay with exact change to “avoid handling of money”.

We made it to our AirBnb relatively easily – on the first day, at least. We were staying in Senglea, just outside the capital, and granted there were fewer signs of the pandemic there. More than once we noted how quiet it was. Must be the time of year, we thought.

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On day two we headed to our hotel in Valetta, the capital, dropping our bags in the morning before heading out for the day. Returning to check-in later in the day, things weren’t quite as straightforward.

A masked receptionist met us and informed us of the government's latest measures. All tourists arriving in Malta would be subject to a 14-day quarantine. We were to head straight to our rooms and not leave. If we did and were caught by spot-checking police, we would be fined 1,000 Euro for every day we had flouted the quarantine. They had even set up a food delivery service to rooms.

We argued our case; we had been in the country 24 hours already, surely the new rule didn’t apply to us? Unfortunately the hotel didn’t know. The government had made the order but shard very few further details.

After a mad half hour of phone calls and web searches, hotel staff relented. It was agreed that since we arrived before the rule was imposed, it did not apply to us. Whether that was true, I’m not sure any of us knew. Either way we were free to continue our stay as normal. But they did advise we leave as soon as possible. A national lockdown would be just days away, they said.

Our escape felt even closer as we had initially been due to fly into Malta 24 hours later – meaning we would have landed almost precisely at the moment the new quarantine measures were introduced. It was only after my partner decided we should turn our three-day trip into four that we rescheduled for an earlier flight. Maybe the moral of this story should be that extending your holiday by an extra day is always a good idea.

There were also other precautions in place. We could attend breakfast but would have to sit at allocated tables separated from other guests. Not that it was an issue, we were pretty much the only ones left. And we weren’t allowed to access the buffet ourselves. Instead we would have to point to what we wanted – from behind a yellow line – as a gloved waiter served it up.

We stuck around for another day-and-a-half before catching a flight back on Sunday. But during the time in between it was noticeable how much emptier the streets became, how many shops, cafes and restaurants closed. Saturday night, the capital city felt like a ghost town.

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Looking back, the biggest takeaway from the trip was perhaps the speed and decisiveness with which the measures were imposed. A government that was in ‘political crisis’ just months ago, when the prime minister resigned amidst an investigation into the 2017 murder of a journalist, was still able to act so quickly and decisively in a bid to tackle a very real and growing threat.

Meanwhile, the UK is taking twice as long to act half as strong.

I also wonder if the developments in Malta show a sense of community that I worry may have fallen by the wayside on these shores.

We don’t self-isolate for our own benefit. We do it to prevent the spread of infection to others. It’s essentially an altruistic act. And one that Malta – for which tourism makes up around a quarter of its GDP – and its people were very much ready and willing to accept.

But in the UK we see thousands continuing to attend concerts, employers not yet shutting down premises, and shoppers clearing out supermarket aisles to ensure their own backs are covered.

It may seem odd to look to a country that, rightly or wrongly, has a reputation for corruption and cronyism. But in this case, and in these times, we could do an awful lot worse than follow the Maltese lead.