Prime Minister Robert Abela said this afternoon that as from tomorrow at midnight all bars, cinemas, restaurants, clubs and gyms will be closed until further notice.
Take-aways will be allowed to continue to operate, and restaurants will be allowed or provide take-away and delivery services – what will be banned is sit-down meals in restaurants.
The fine for breaching quarantine will be raised from €1,000 to €3,000 for every breach. The fine will be inflicted for every time that a person who is supposed to be in quarantine is caught not staying at the residence he indicated when asked to provide an address.
It is unfortunate, he said, that people are irresponsbile enough to breach regulations that were set in place to protect public health.
The Prime Minister was addressing the media on measures the government is taking to combat and control the spread of Coronavirus. Today, another nine cases were registered for a total of 30. Three of the new cases were locally transmitted, the first of such cases.
Abela said that the government aims to flatten the graph as much as possible – meaning that the lower the peak of cases, the less stress there will be on health services.
He urged the Maltese who are still abroad to return home as early as they can, and for tourists still in Malta to leave too, indicating that the government is planning a total suspension of flights.
He said that the situation is still under control, and the situation is calm. The health services are prepared to deal with the spread of Coronavirus, the PM said.
On the possibility of a lockdown, Abela said that health authorities are still advising against it at present. One should understand that a lockdown will not last three weeks, as some were saying, but would take longer than that. This is why the government was opting for measures that limit socialising without imposing a total lockdown. We will try to avboid having to push the red button for a total lockdown, he said, although one cannot exclude the possibility that it could happen.
He said that the plan for a total lockdown is already in place and will be announced if and when the time comes.
Whilst schools are closed and now bars and restaurants are closed, more pictures on social media show big groups on beaches and in the countryside, Abela explained that the situation is difficult but it is important to take responsibility and avoid crowded areas. “What is the point that we closed schools and other areas and then we find playgrounds full of children? I understand the situation as I am a father of a young daughter and it is difficult,” said Abela.
He said that the government is conscious about the economic effects that this situation is having on various sectors. The government has already announced measures to allow for a better cashflow, but this will not be the only measure that will be taken. Others will be announced in the short-term to safeguard the interests of businesses and employees, he said.
Health Minister Chris Fearne said that the idea of social distancing is the best way to limit the spread of the the virus, and once again urged the people to avoid situations where groups of people congregate together. He said he understands it is a sacrifice that grandparents stay away from their grandchildren, but in the circumstances it is better to be safe than to be sorry, given that elderly people are among the most vulnerable.
Replying to concerns raised by the MUMN on the number of nurses available, Fearne said that the government is planning for 600 beds which, hopefully, will not be needed in their entirety. He said that 200 beds are already prepared, and for this the nursning staff is available. Another 100 beds will be taken up from already existing wards that are being converted to be able to treat any COVID-19 patients if needed. He said the government is discussing other ways to increase the nursing and medical staff available. There are nurses who are still waiting to be given their warrant and, without compromising the process, it will be quickened to enable them to work.
Home Minister Byron Camilleri said that the police force continues to work tirelessly to check on people who should be in quarantine as a measure to limit the spread of the virus. He said that until a few minutes before the press conference, another person had been caught not sticking to the quarantine rules, bringing the total to five. “We must remember to respect our police and army forces, they are people like you and me and are also at risk of this virus, so let us be responsible for one another,” said Camilleri.