Restaurants, kiosks and snack bars will only be allowed to provide a take-away service between tomorrow and 11 April, Prime Minister Robert Abela has announced.
The PM, together with Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne and Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci, announced new measures to address the ongoing spike in Covid-19 cases. An all-time record of 362 cases was registered on Thursday.
Abela said that restaurants forming part of hotels and guest houses can only cater for their own clients.
Nightclubs, band clubs and bars are to remain closed. Fines for any esablishment caught operating are being doubled to €6,000.
Mass activities remain prohibited except for weddings and religious activities.
In case of private activities, guests can come from a maximum of four different households. Breaches of this regulation will result in a fine of €100 per person.
Where illegal mass activities are held for a profit, the organisers will be fined €6,000.
The rule on accommodation introduced during Carnival – where establishments cannot have more guests than there is bedspace – is being introduced again.
Speaking about enforcement, he said that the presence and action of police, the MTA, and the directorate for environmental health must intensify, so that those who are irresponsible pay for their actions.
From Monday, public sector workers will again go on telework where possible. Abela urged the private sector to do the same.
These measures will be in placer for a few weeks, while the vaccination programme increases its rhythm, he said.
Abela said the government has been in constant contact with the health authorities and, as usual, it is taking decisions based on a scientific approach.
“The health authorities believe that the vaccine is leading to the desired results. The incidence of positive cases among vaccinated persons went down drastically. However, the variant and other factors led to an increase in new cases.”
Abela said that the country worked hard to be at the forefront of caring for people’s health.
He said that the health authorities advised the government that, for a few weeks, balanced decisions need be taken to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of families. The government will not forget businesses, he said. These measures, while balanced, can be hard. He said support will continue to be given. “We will continue investing in businesses and assist as needed. The government will extend the wage supplement for businesses until June. We will also help, through an initiative, restaurants that want to go online. Restaurants, snack bars and kiosks will move onto the full wage supplement list.”
Through the wage supplement and the quarantine leave so far, the government gave businesses more than €360 million, “and we will give more at least until June.”
Deputy PM Chris Fearne said the new numbers are “serious and worrying.”
He said that from sequencing tests and clusters, it seems the UK variant is being found within the community. While the hospital is still coping, the increased number of patients is putting an added strain on healthcare workers.
“Science shows us that activities where many people gather is leading to the spread of the virus,” he said. “The virus is also spreading at workplaces, so teleworking is being encouraged.”
To avoid the spread of the virus at schools, contact sports for people aged 16 and under are being temporarily banned.
Hospital visits are also being stopped for the time being, except in cases where patients are in their final hours.
Asked about Easter activities, Abela said outdoor activities remain regulated by laws that are currently in place.
The Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci highlighted that, through the information gathered by the health authorities, it became apparent that restaurants were a source of infections.
“This is why the new measures for restaurants were introduced,” she said.
She added that a number of cases were tied to household gatherings, adding that when different household bubbles mingle, cases were emerging. In terms of contact sports, she said that since it increases the risk of transmission, there were a number of people who contracted the virus and the situation also increased the risk of the number of people who had to go into quarantine.
Currently, 7,000 people are in quarantine.
She said that the impact of the variant is apparent. Gauci said that the variant spreads more quickly, and stressed the need to be more diligent and responsible now than ever before.
Replying to questions by this newspaper, Abela said the government will be maximising available resources for enforcement. He acknowledged, however, with regard to the new restriction on household gatherings, that the authorities cannot possibly monitor half a million people.
“The best enforcement tool are the people themselves,” he said, appealing to the public to exercise caution and responsibility. The authorities, however, will investigate any reports they receive.
Asked whether he still stands by his claim that the country will go back to ‘business as usual’ by May, Abela said he will strive hard to ensure that the country recovers from a health, economic, social aspect as soon as possible.
The press conference can be followed in the video below: