The Vatican has informed the Maltese government and church authorities that Pope Francis plans to visit Malta on April 2 and 3, Times of Malta is informed. 

The Pope was originally meant to visit Malta in May 2020, but the trip had been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

No official statement has yet been made but sources said that both President George Vella and Prime Minister Robert Abela have been officially informed and they have accepted the dates for the two-day visit.

Pope Francis will be the third pontiff to visit Malta after St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

The first papal visit took place in 1990 when Pope John Paul II was given a rousing welcome. He visited again in 2001 when he beatified Dun Ġorġ Preca, Adeodata Pisani and Nazju Falzon.

Pope Benedict XVI visited Malta in 2010 at the height of the clerical sex abuse scandal. 

March general election beckons

The pope's confirmed dates will now fuel speculation that the general election could be held as early as March 12. 

Sources said the Vatican had expressed their wish for the pope's visit to take place after the election so as not to give the impression of any undue political influence. 

Political sources also said the prime minister is likely to call the election as soon as possible amid favourable opinion polls and the reduction of COVID-19 restrictions in the coming days. Should that be the case, parliament could be dissolved next week. 

While, in terms of the law, the term of the present government ends in June, an indication that a general election could be looming was given in parliament this week when the government moved to rush through the House the Bill for Implementation of the Budget Measures.

Such a bill is moved after every budget debate and the debate usually stretches for weeks, often months. This time, the government opened the debate on Tuesday and said it wants it to be over by Wednesday for a final vote in the third reading stage on February 2.

A law amending the General Elections Act to make possible special voting arrangements for people in quarantine was approved by parliament last week. Times of Malta reported that the special arrangements would consist of drive-through polling stations open to people listed as being in quarantine by the Superintendent of Public Health.

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