Restaurants, bars, cinemas, gyms and other such public places will close as of midnight, with Malta battling to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
As it happened
Ending with a summary
7.23pm Here is a breakdown of the situation as of today, as reported by the government through its daily COVID-19 bulletin.
We will be ending this blog on that note today. Thank you for joining us, we will be back tomorrow.
• Malta has eight new cases of COVID-19 (for a total of 30). All patients are in a good state of health.
• Five of the new cases were locally transmitted. Three were imported.
• More than 1,600 COVID-19 swab tests have been administered so far.
• More than 300 people entering Mater Dei Hospital have undergone respiratory screening.
• Police have carried out 557 spot checks on people in quarantine.
• In the last 24 hours, police have carried out 149 spot checks in Malta and 26 in Gozo.
• Nobody was found to be breaking the law during spot checks over the past 24 hours.
• Buses are being fumigated every night. Drivers are not accepting cash and no standing passengers are allowed.
• Gozo Channel ferries are being regularly fumigated.
• Work from home where possible.
• Keep your distance from others.
• Elderly people should remain indoors.
• Wash your hands regularly.
If you are stuck abroad and need help to return to Malta, dial +356 22042200.
If you are in quarantine and need food or medicine, dial +356 21411411.
If you have questions about the impact of the coronavirus, dial 25981000.
If you have questions about measures for hotels and tourists, dial 21692447.
If you are an older citizen and need help at home, dial 25903030.
Nobody caught breaking quarantine
7.15pm There were 149 spot checks on people in quarantine in Malta and 26 in Gozo over the past 24 hours. In total, police have carried out 577 checks.
That means 30 per cent of all spot checks carried out, happened in the past 24 hours. And for the first time since rules were introduced last week, nobody was caught breaking the law.
Table for one
7.05pm The leaders of EU member states got together today to discuss how to better respond to the coronavirus crisis and coordinate their responses.
With almost all of Europe in effective or literal lockdown, it all happened online, as this Department of Information photo shows.
Doctor Debattista wants to roll up his sleeves
6.51pm Labour MP and medical doctor Deo Debattista is a parliamentary secretary. That means he cannot practice his profession. But he says these are extraordinary times, and he's told parliament that he would like to be exempt from the code of ethics, to be allowed to practice and lend a hand.
Earlier, another doctor-MP, Godfrey Farrugia, said Malta had already wasted precious time without locking itself down.
Farrugia also made the point that Gozo General Hospital could be a life-saver, should there be an outbreak of COVID-19 at Mater Dei Hospital.
A thank you from Repubblika
6.29pm A reader has sent us a photo of this banner which rule of law activists Repubblika have put up.
"A heartfelt thanks to our doctors, nurses, pharmacists and all other healthcare workers," it reads.
Mario de Marco - 'take action now'
6.19pm PN MP Mario de Marco has dismissed the mitigation measures in place, saying they are "completely ineffective".
He has also echoed concerns from major entrepreneurs, that mass unemployment was on the horizon.
"Let us follow the example set by the French government who vowed to safeguard all jobs. We cannot wait till the end of the week to take action," he says.
Economy Minister says 'charity begins at home'
6.12pm Economy Minister Silvio Schembri makes no bones about it: financial aid will be geared towards helping Maltese families first.
“Charity begins at home. Our primary focus are Maltese and Gozitan workers. The moment foreign workers lose their job, they will have to go back to their country," he tells parliament.
Schembri warns that the post-coronavirus economy will not automatically return to where it was before and says "nobody knows exactly how long this situation will persist.”
New bus schedule announced
6.10pm If you use the bus to get around, this is big news for you. As of tomorrow, bus schedules will change as Malta Public Transport tries to adapt to the new situation.
Bus frequency has been cut on some routes and increased on others. Details of the new schedule available here.
MDA looks for properties to turn into emergency clinics
6pm The Malta Developers Association says it will be finding properties which could easily be converted into temporary medical facilities if the need arises.
In a statement, the developers' lobby also says that the national priority right now is to bolster our healthcare systems and resources, and to prepare more emergency facilities.
"This is not the time for panic and ill-thought calls for half-baked economic incentives and state handouts aimed at solving the short-term consequences of an economic shortfall," the MDA says.
Bank of Valletta makes €10m available
5.53pm Speaking of banks - Bank of Valletta has just issued a company announcement in which it tells shareholders that it has launched a €10 million fund to help businesses during this time of crisis.
The fund comes together with "a number of other measures", BOV said.
Earlier today, Lombard Bank said it had set aside €12.5 million to provide temporary working capital to business customers facing cash-flow shortages.
'Aid is on the way' - Finance Minister
5.48pm Finance Minister Edward Scicluna has just told parliament that an aid package has been agreed on. He also said relief measures private banks were offering businesses could be fortified through support from the Malta Development Bank.
"There is no doubt that there will be repercussions. You can say the entertainment industry like bars and restaurants is already in lockdown," he said.
Government revenue would also go down, just as expenditure would have to increase to protect industries.
PN MP Fenech Adami worried about situation in jail
5.33pm Speaking in parliament, Opposition MP Beppe Fenech Adami warned that social unrest could be looming.
He said hundreds of foreign workers who would be laid off, particularly in the tourism industry, could end up resorting to theft.
Fenech Adami also said the situation in prison was critical, with prisoners boxed in small cells next to each other. A single coronavirus infection there could spell disaster, he said, with the same situation inside detention centres housing asylum seekers.
UK says it's 'reasonable' to assume 55,000 are infected
5.22pm The UK government's chief scientific adviser has said it is "reasonable" to estimate that 55,000 people could have COVID-19, based on the expected death rate of one in 1,000 cases.
Asked at a parliamentary health committee if there were "potentially 55,000 cases" based on that ratio, Patrick Vallance said that was "a reasonable ballpark way of looking at it".
But he added the modelling was "not more accurate than that".
Fearne's tsunamis and rivers
5.06pm Fearne's metaphor - "we need to turn the tsunami into a river" - is another way of saying what many public health experts call "flattening the curve".
The idea is to spread cases over a longer period of time, preventing a sudden spike in people needing hospitalisation which can overwhelm healthcare systems.
'We need to support each other'
5.02pm Fearne noted that Malta’s small size means we do not have the luxury of isolating a virus hotspot and redeploying resources from another part of the country there to help fight the virus.
He reassured parliament that the country was well-prepared to face the crisis over the next weeks, but said everyone would need to play a part.
In some specific cases, he said, police were standing guard outside people's houses to ensure they did not break quarantine rules.
Chris Fearne speaks in parliament
4.57pm Health Minister Chris Fearne addressed parliament about the coronavirus situation.
He ran through the government’s strategy, again using the analogy of trying to “turn a tsunami into a river” to explain why public health experts believe a combination of quarantine measures for high-risk individuals and social distancing across broader society will help Malta weather the crisis, by spreading cases out over a longer period of time.
But he did not sugarcoat things. "We know that what happened elsewhere will happen here too".
Spare a thought for Germany's Big Brother contestants
4.45pm The world has been gradually shutting down for the past two weeks, with daily news updates announcing ever-stricter measures.
But contestants of German reality TV show Big Brother have been living in blissful ignorance and have no idea of what is happening in the world outside.
Broadcaster Sat 1 has been criticised for keeping the contestants in the dark, so that will change tonight - when it intends to break the news to them live on TV.
No decision taken about schools reopening
4.35pm The government has yet to decide whether to reopen schools next week, Education Minister Owen Bonnici has told parliament.
It's hard to believe that they will reopen, but Bonnici says a definitive decision will be taken later this week.
Meanwhile, educational resources can be downloaded from www.curriculum.gov.mt. Written exams will proceed as planned.
The minister was replying to Opposition MP Herman Schiavone, who raised concerns about having many students sitting for the exam in one hall.
'Medical incident' on flight from Gatwick
4.18pm Malta International Airport has just said that a "medical incident" was reported by crew aboard flight KM117 from Gatwick airport.
According to MIA's website, the flight landed 15 minutes ago.
"The established precautionary measures are being taken by the local health authorities so as to ensure everyone’s safety," an MIA spokesperson said.
Advertising, media, tech, marketing firms make joint plea
4.14pm Members of Malta’s media, advertising, marketing, public relations, design and videography sectors [including Times of Malta publishers Allied Newspapers] have written the prime minister an open letter, pleading for help.
“ Ours is an industry with players that will not be dented or crippled by this, but that will simply fade away into the night, here today gone tomorrow, without so much as a whimper,” they write.
The group has put forward some suggestions of what a financial aid package could include. Among them is aid to cover at least 50 per cent of payroll for April and May, a subsidy to help with rental expenses and a temporary adjustment to employees’ tax rates.
They are also seeking reassurance that measures the prime minister has already announced – a temporary suspension of tax and social security payments – is also applicable to them.
The letter is signed by almost 40 of the biggest local players in these sectors.
How Gozo General Hospital is managing the crisis
3.59pm Steward Health Care, which runs the Gozo hospital, has shared details about the hospital's contingency plan, including details about visiting rules and postponed procedures.
Parliament to debate coronavirus crisis today
3.42pm MPs will discuss the coronavirus situation today, in what promises to be a heated parliamentary session.
Prime Minister Robert Abela will speak at the very end of the debate.
Opposition leader Adrian Delia has repeatedly called for urgent financial aid for businesses and made his most recent appeal earlier today.
Sources tell us a financial aid plan is in the pipeline and that it will most likely penalise business owners who sack workers to protect their bottom line.
Medical students called in to work at Mater Dei
3.30pm Medical students in their final year of studies have been called in to work at Mater Dei Hospital, in anticipation of a spike in the number of known COVID-19 cases.
The fifth-year students will help doctors treat and diagnose patients and interpret test results. For more details about the arrangement, read the full article.
Half of Gozo's businesses say they risk shutting down
3.20pm A survey carried out by the Gozo Business Chamber has found that 50 per cent of its members say they will be forced to shut down if the ongoing crisis persists for much longer.
Almost as many - 42 per cent - say they have scaled-down operations.
Read about the survey results.
COVID-19 developments around the world
2.59pm Israel has ordered its security agency Shin Bet to spy on its own citizens in an attempt to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Italy is planning to re-nationalise Alitalia, Chile and Colombia have shut down their borders and the the entire Polish government is in quarantine after a minister tested positive for COVID-19.
Read more about developments around the world.
Maltese in the UK told to leave 'now'
2.48pm Earlier, we shared advice the UK government is giving its citizens in Malta. The Maltese government is doing the same for citizens in the UK.
Malta's High Commission in the UK is contacting Maltese and telling them that if they want to return home, they had better do it "now".
Malta International airport 'sets the record straight'
2.40pm Malta International Airport has said that a room at the airport in which a COVID-19 patient was temporarily held was fumigated shortly after the incident, "contrary to what certain media houses reported".
The patient in question was student who was due to fly back to Spain. A temperature test flagged him as being feverish and he subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.
"Fumigation of the room where the said passenger was held was ordered immediately, with the actual fumigation process being carried out shortly after this room was vacated. Other areas indicated by the public health authorities were also fumigated to further minimise the risk of transmission," an MIA spokesperson said.
Other media had published claims by airport workers that the room in question had not been fumigated and that the group he was with was allowed to roam the airport freely.
Advice for UK citizens in Malta
2.15pm British High Commissioner Stuart Gill has been putting out regular video messages with advice for UK citizens in Malta. You can find them all on the British High Commission's Facebook page.
He's urged Brits who want to leave Malta to "do so as soon as possible".
"Commercial flights are flying, but I don't know for how long that will go on," he says in his most recent video.
Avoid ibuprofen if you have a fever
2.08pm Last week, a research paper published by The Lancet put forward the hypothesis that anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen could heighten the chance of COVID-19 infection.
The paper has understandably caused ripples of concern and France's health minister had subsequently urged people to take paracetamol, rather than ibuprofen, if they had a fever.
The World Health Organization has now followed suit.
WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva that the UN health agency's experts were "looking into this to give further guidance."
"In the meantime, we recommend using rather paracetamol, and do not use ibuprofen as a self-medication. That's important," he said.
Read more about the WHO's advice.
No football this summer
1.53pm UEFA has just announced the postponement of Euro 2020 until the summer of 2021 to allow European leagues more time to complete their seasons amid the coronavirus pandemic, Sky Sports reported.
Reporters without borders
1.50pm The Institute of Journalists has thanked journalists for constantly delivering updates about the virus. It reminded media houses of their crucial role to inform the public while straying away from sensationalism. It also urged them to always quote official sources, especially where medical experts are concerned.
“In days like these, the media should be a point of reference to gain the trust of the public, which is bombarded with fake news and speculation on social media platforms,” the IGM said, reminding journalists to take all precautions.
When the cat's away...
1.45pm... The poachers play. The Committee Against Bird Slaughter has just issued a statement saying poachers were taking advantage of reduced police resources to continue with their illegal trapping of birds.
'I'm a hypnotherapist, not a miracle worker'
1.40pm In the despair to make the virus go away, a woman has asked well-known hypnotherapist to help cure the virus.
His reply is priceless.
What's happening elsewhere:
1.30pm In Spain, the coronavirus cases have risen to 11,178 with 491 deaths, a health ministry official said Tuesday. In Italy the number of deaths has passed 2,000.
In Denmark, the center for disease control and prevention, is setting up a system enabling doctors to hand out five to 10 home tests to patients each week.
India's most populous city, Mumbai, has told officials at airports and hospitals to stamp the left hand of those who should be quarantined at home with indelible ink that lasts for 14 days.
In Austria's border with Hungary, some 3,500 Romanians trying to get back home by car have been stuck, after Budapest decided to ban people from transiting through the country.
Ikea will close all 53 of its stores in Germany from Tuesday in order to protect employees and inhibit the spread of coronavirus.
Keep those positive messages going
1pm A number of residents, including children, have been hanging messages of hope and encouragement from their balconies.
Our photographer Jonathan Borg just captured this in Xgħajra.
Air traffic falls by a third
12.51pm Air traffic across the EU dipped by a third yesterday when compared to the same day last year, the director-general of European aviation monitoring firm Eurocontrol has said.
The decline will be even steeper in the coming days, he says.
Sack workers, get nothing?
12.47pm Sources involved in drafting a financial aid package for struggling businesses tell us that the government is leaning towards penalising any company which fires workers to cut costs, by making them ineligible for financial aid.
The kindness of strangers
12.45pm We're hearing about various acts of kindness and generosity to help the health authorities, the vulnerable and the elderly. If you want to share your stories, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Send healthcare workers your heartfelt thanks
12.32pm Spare a thought for our doctors and nurses, who are on the front lines of this battle, and send them an audio or video message on WhatsApp. The number to dial is 79075414.
Details about eight new cases
12.22pm We have full details of the eight new COVID-19 cases available online.
Malta has now confirmed 38 cases
12.10pm Gauci is listing details of each new case: we will list them all together once the briefing is over.
The eight new cases bring Malta's total number of cases to 38. Two patients have since recovered and none have died.
Eight new COVID-19 cases
12.05pm Malta has confirmed eight new infection cases, including one of a three-year-old boy. Children are not considered to be a high-risk group for the virus. The case is believed to be contained.
COVID-19 press briefing
12.03pm Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci will provide an update shortly. You can watch the briefing in the video above.
A hint of normality in Hubei province
11.52am Medical teams from across China which were flown into Hubei province to help local doctors and nurses manage the COVID-19 epidemic are starting to return back home, Chinese news agency Xinhua is reporting.
So far, 3,675 have returned home. Around 37,000 additional medical workers from across China remain in Hubei.
Scammers in South Africa trick people out of their money
11.47am In South Africa, ruthless scammers are pretending to be government officials and tricking people into handing over money by claiming it is infected with the coronavirus and must be "recalled".
The country's central bank has been forced to issue a warning to people about it.
11.40am Upper Barrakka gardens this morning. Around about this time on a normal day, people would be gathering for the noon saluting battery. But today it is closed.
Heritage Malta and Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna have both shut down the museums and historic sites they manage until further notice.
Vittoriosa hawkers obey regulations
11.25am Yesterday, we reported that market hawkers in Mosta had flaunted new rules and set up their stalls anyway.
Vendors at the larger market in Vittoriosa have been more respectful of the rules.
The market is practically empty today, save for food vendors who have set up their stands far apart from each other.
"The vendors all used gloves and were very careful about not touching food and money with the same hand," one reader tells us.
But the empty market has led to a different problem.
"Unfortunately some car drivers took the emptiness as a license to drive at breakneck speed directly through the market," the reader said.
"Many elderly people shop here - you'd think the drivers would have a bit more respect."
Financial aid for business
11.19am Silvio Schembri's argument that it would be "immature" to splash out passport funds in this crisis went down like a lead balloon with many of our readers. Many emailed in to say the money should be used to bolster our health services.
"If you don't protect and equip your army you will lose the war," Bernard argued.
Meanwhile, a financial stimulus package is being put together and will be announced this week. Sources tell us it will cost the government up to €30 million every month.
Read more about economic stimulus plans.
Lost and Found moved
11.13am Lost and Found festival, which brings thousands of partygoers to Malta every spring, has been rescheduled to September.
Reminder - no surgeries from today
11.09am Anyone with non-urgent surgeries will have their procedures postponed as from Tuesday, as hospital prepare themselves for a potential increase in the number of COVID-19 patients.
So far, people seem to be obeying the health authorities' instructions and staying away from Mater Dei Hospital unless necessary.
CEO Celia Falzon told Times of Malta people did not want to be at the hospital unless "absolutely necessary".
Silence in the newsroom
11.03am Surreal times at Times of Malta too. For the first time in our 85-year history, all our print and digital operations are being carried out remotely. News editor Diana Cacciottolo has the place to herself.
Excavation reform 'will have to wait'
10.56am The ongoing coronavirus crisis has pushed practically every other government project further down the pecking order. That includes a reform of excavation rules, prompted by last month's tragic house collapse in Ħamrun.
The reform is still being drafted, but the focus right now is entirely on the virus crisis, a source within government has told us.
Dive schools risk going under
10.51am On Monday, the Professional Diving School Association in Malta held a meeting about the dire situation.
One diving instructor told us all dive centres have closed and have lost all bookings for 2020. The diving sector makes up an estimated eight per cent of the tourism industry.
"If the government doesn’t announce a serious aid package for this industry we will be seeing centre after centre shedding staff and ultimately folding," the instructor said.
Lombard Bank sets aside €12.5m
10.43am Lombard Bank is offering €12.5 million to provide temporary working capital to business customers facing cash-flow shortages, the bank has said in a company announcement.
EU financing for vaccine research
10.37am EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has promised to help finance CureVac, which is piloting research into an eventual COVID-19 vaccine.
On Sunday, a German newspaper claimed that Donald Trump had offered the company $1 billion to secure exclusive access to the vaccine. The report prompted fury in Berlin (and former PN MEP candidate Peter Agius to write to EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides).
What are Malta's quarantine rules?
10.20am Things have been changing so rapidly, it's easy to lose track. People have also been asking what to do if they are in quarantine at an address that differs from that on their ID cards.
We've got you covered - here's a guide to Malta's quarantine rules, courtesy of Claire Caruana.
10.10am It's important to preface this by noting that scientists still have many unanswered questions about the novel coronavirus - not least just how easily it can spread among people who show no symptoms - and that an anecdote is not the same thing as evidence.
But this article [in Italian] from Italy's La Repubblica is concerning: a small community in Veneto tested every single one of its 3,000 inhabitants and found that "between 50 and 75 per cent" of those infected showed absolutely no symptoms.
The doctor in charge of that study argues that the key to eradicate the virus lies in identifying these asymptomatic people "because nobody fears or isolates them" currently.
"This is especially true to people like doctors and nurses, who frequently develop asymptomatic infections and continue to spread the infection among themselves and their patients," he said.
The numbers in China
9.54am China reported on Tuesday just one new domestic coronavirus infection but found 20 more cases imported from abroad, threatening to spoil its progress against the disease.
The single case in Wuhan will boost China's view that it has "basically curbed" the spread of the virus.
Wuhan and its 11 million people were placed under strict quarantine on January 23, with the rest of Hubei province going under lockdown in the following days.
It's important to keep in mind that the number of cases being reported is also dependent on how widespread testing is. More widespread testing leads to more cases being identified. Fewer tests leads to fewer cases being identified, obviously.
In Australia, a shopping hour for the elderly
9.43am Here's an ideal local supermarkets might consider implementing.
In Australia, supermarket chain Woolworths is reserving one-hour time slots exclusively for elderly or disabled shoppers, to help them beat the queues and buy their groceries in peace.
Read more about the initiative.
UEFA's Euro 2020 call
9.29am European football's governing body UEFA meets today, and they have some big calls to make.
Insiders say they expect UEFA to postpone this summer's Euro championship by a year, to 2021. UEFA must also decide what will happen to this season's Champions League and Europa League contests.
Expect a decision in the late afternoon.
9.21am Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, who were diagnosed with COVID-19 last week in Australia, are out of hospital.
Actor Idris Elba has tested positive despite being asymptomatic and is now quarantined at home.
"It sucks," he says. "There are people out there who aren't showing symptoms and who can easily spread it. So now is the time to be really vigilant about washing your hands and keeping your distance".
Innovators lend a hand in Italy
9.15pm One of the problems hospitals in virus-stricken Lombardy face is a lack of ICU valves. So a local entrepreneur decided to put his 3D printer to good use.
A long slog
9.05pm Gauden Galea is a doctor from Żebbuġ who has been leading the charge against the coronavirus as the World Health Organization's representative in China.
He told Kristina Abela to get ready for the long haul.
"Europe as a whole is headed for an epidemic that is many months long," he says.
Should we spend passport funds on recovery?
8.53am Economy Minister Silvio Schembri put out a message last night in which he argued that it would be foolish to spend this €600 million nest egg at the first sign of trouble, and argued that everyone would have to shoulder some of the economic pain.
There are of course other ways in which the government could pay for financial aid - through its budget surplus, for instance, or bond issues.
What do you think? Should passport funds be used in this situation? Let us know at email@example.com.
A climate change boon
8.44am The virus is turning out to be a blessing in disguise for the climate change problem.
New data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite reveal the decline of air pollution, specifically nitrogen dioxide emissions, over Italy.
This reduction is particularly visible in northern Italy which coincides with its nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Buses being fumigated
8.39am Buses are being fumigated every night as part of the effort to slow the spread of the virus. It takes around five minutes to fumigate each bus.
Reminder: buses are not allowing any standing passengers on board and drivers have been instructed to not hand out any change for fares.
One big winner
8.32am Amazon was already the world's largest public company before the coronavirus turned the world upside-down. Now the internet giant looks set to leap even further ahead than its competition.
While its brick-and-mortar rivals are being forced to shut, Amazon is hiring as quickly as it can, as lockdowns lead to people doing more shopping online.
How rapidly is the virus spreading globally?
8.20am The answer to that question is "it depends".
China was doubling its number of confirmed cases every single day, but has put a firm lid on that growth - though the epicentre, Wuhan, remains under lockdown.
South Korea appeared to be going much the same way, but stopped that rapid increase after introducing widespread community testing and isolating any infected people.
Singapore has so far kept the virus at bay, though it recorded 14 new cases on Monday - its highest daily total so far.
8.10am There have been 182,407 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, with more than 7,000 deaths and (thankfully) almost 80,000 recoveries.
China, Italy, Iran and Spain are the countries which have reported the most cases in total.
Restrictions are in place all across the world, however.
Overnight, the US state of Ohio postponed its primary election on public health grounds and US president Donald Trump, who has consistently downplayed the situation, admitted it could persist beyond August.
In Brazil's Rio de Janeiro, authorities ordered beachgoers to head home. Ukraine has shut down all its public transport services. Greece has halted all Orthodox Church services.
And in Spain, football team Valencia FC has said that more than a third of their squad has tested positive for COVID-19. Valencia played Atalanta, the Italian team from virus hotspot Bergamo, in the Champions League two weeks ago.
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