All travel by air and sea between Malta and Italy has been banned with immediate effect after drastic measures were taken by Rome to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Robert Abela said early on Tuesday.
Cabinet on Tuesday will discuss the necessary arrangements to assist dozens of Maltese nationals stranded in Italy, Abela said during an extraordinary news conference which started at 12.20am. A helpline will be set up to assist those in need.
The Sicily catamaran will not be carrying passengers but will continue being used to transport merchandise, medicine and food to ensure the chain of supply continues, the Prime Minister said.
The statement came a few hours after Malta confirmed its fourth case of coronavirus, a man who returned to the island after a holiday in the north of Italy.
A cruise liner with 2,600 on board which was meant to be visiting Malta on Tuesday has been barred from entering.
"Health remains the priority. We need to safeguard everyone. But there's no need for alarm. We are well prepared for any eventuality. It’s a normal work day, it's a normal school day," Abela reassured the country.
In a shocking address to the nation on Monday night, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte put the whole country on lockdown and banned gatherings, in a bid to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Italian government said only those with a valid work or family reason that cannot be postponed will be permitted to travel.
Passengers departing on flights in Italy, except temporary visitors, will have to justify themselves, as will all those arriving by plane.
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