All schools and childcare centres will close their doors for a week as from Friday, amid the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Robert Abela announced.

The measure, which includes all primary, secondary, post-secondary, and tertiary institutions, will be reviewed next week. 

Fielding questions from the media, shortly after the health authorities announced another two coronavirus cases, Abela said every citizen had to do their bit, and parents could take leave to take care of their children at home. 

The Health Minister meanwhile urged children to avoid visiting their grandparents because while they were less at risk, they were carriers and the elderly were more vulnerable.

Elderly people on the Pharmacy of Your Choice scheme will be supplied with two months' worth of their medicines, Chris Fearne said on Thursday. (See more below)

"The government was initially focusing on keeping the virus out of Malta. All [nine] cases have so far been imported. The focus has now shifted to limiting contact between people within the country, in order to limit transmission," Fearne said, not excluding more drastic measures if there is sustained transmission. 

 

Despite health authorities insisting on Thursday that only those who travelled to affected countries should not return to school, five private schools have already closed their doors. 

Addressing the same press conference, Education Minister Owen Bonnici said that while absenteeism in schools was average on Monday, it shot up in state schools in the following days.

He added that Malta was one of the few countries to shut down all education institutions. 

Bonnici said that the university was prepared for the closure, and lecturers will  provide details soon. The government will discuss similar measures with the teachers' union. 

He said oral O-level exams that were due to be held next week would not count towards the final grade. 

Mass events should be cancelled

Abela has also urged all mass events to be cancelled with immediate effect. Meanwhile, senior and youth football league games will be played behind closed doors.

"The government will not tolerate people going on with mass events. Now is not the time for such attitudes," he warned, adding that the Labour Party will cancel its Sunday political events.

Abela added that if people did not cooperate with measures about mass gatherings like weddings, the government will have to ramp up enforcement.

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Abela however noted that there was, as yet, no need to close down businesses.

The prime minister added that the government was not excluding anything when it comes to supporting businesses, but he did not elaborate on the issue.

As from Friday, holy mass will be transmitted on TVM2. See church directives of masses here.

Several countries have been taking drastic measures as the so-called COVID 19 virus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on Wednesday. 

Nurses react

In a reaction, the nurses’ union said that it had yet to be seen how the decision would impact the healthcare system.

Malta Union of Nurses and Midwives head Paul Pace said closing the schools meant some 30 to 40 per cent of nurses would have to somehow make alternative arrangements for their children, or otherwise not turn up to work. 

While nurses are offered family-friendly options, in this case they feared these might not be enough given the number of people that now required the option. 

Pace said the union would be meeting Health Minister Chris Fearne on Friday to discuss the issue further. The MUMN, he said, would asking for incentives that would encourage nurses to work extra duties.

Chamber of Pharmacists explains POYC procedure

The Chamber of Pharmacists and the Chamber of SMEs in a statement on Thursday afternoon said that contrary to the impression that may have been given, there has been no change in the system for distribution of POYC medicines. 

The chambers said people should call for their medicines only when they are entitled to them, which is every two months. 

The 111 helpline is going to be bolstered fivefold to reduce waiting time for calls. People under quarantine can call 2141 1411 for anything they may need, including food. 

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