All people aged over 65, pregnant women and others who suffer from particular medical conditions have been ordered to stay at home from Saturday in a bid to curb coronavirus.

Health Minister Chris Fearne also announced Thursday that the police have been ordered to disperse any group of more than five people found in the streets.

Fearne announced the measures at a press conference, saying they were aimed at protecting the most vulnerable.

He said that social distancing measures were being increased in order to limit the spread of the virus and protect the most vulnerable.

As from Saturday, all people aged over 65 are being ordered to stay at home.

The order also applies for all those, under 65, who are insulin dependant, those on biological medication, those who received chemotherapy in the past six months, had a transplant or HIV treatment, those who are on dialysis, pregnant women, those who have been treated for respiratory disease in the past year, those who had cardiac problems in the past six months and those on oral steroids. All affected people under 65 who fall under this category will be notified by post.

Fearne said people in the above categories who are still in employment are being told not to go to work and will be given quarantine leave.

The order means the elderly have to stay at home for whatever reason except to attend medical appointments.  

People who live with those aged over 65 will need to find alternative accommodation or put themselves in isolation as well.

Groups of more than five will be dispersed

Fearne also noted that following the ban on organised public activities, it had been observed that some people were still gathering in public, with a risk of spreading the disease.

Therefore, wherever more than five people are seen together, the police will be directed to disperse them, ensuring that there are at least two metres between each person. 

The measures apply from Saturday morning and are being issued on the basis of powers given by parliament earlier this week to the Superintendent of Public Health.  Exemptions may be issued by the superintendent.

Public transport not impacted

When replying to questions, Fearne said public transport will not be affected by the measure against any gatherings of more than five.

He said he was satisfied that Steward Healthcare were doing what was expected of them in Gozo regarding COVID-19. As for St Luke's Hospital, it was not in a state to be used in the current situation.

In many cities abroad, health systems were being overwhelmed, Fearne observed. Malta was learning the lessons and the authorities were continually raising capacity through the training of more specialist doctors and nurses and by increasing the number of available beds and equipment. 

Facilities were being improved in both Malta and Gozo. In Gozo, ITU beds were being increased from two to 20 and total available beds for COVID patients will rise to more than 100.

Testing had risen to more than 400 a day, with two new testing hubs having just been opened. 

Earlier in his press conference, Fearne said that although only five new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on Thursday - raising the total to 134 - predictive modelling showed that many more cases were to be expected. 

Furthermore, whereas the first cases were imported, there had been a shift, first to people connected with overseas travel and now, to local transmission.

"We are still in the early stages, and measures will be rolled out gradually on the basis of the evidence and the predictive modelling," he said.

Message to foreigners

The health minister also addressed himself to foreigners, urging them to follow the orders that had been issued and the measures taken earlier (see video)

Chris Fearne's message to foreigners in Malta.

Long cabinet meeting 

Thursday's press conference came after a long cabinet meeting earlier on Thursday and two days after the Superintendent of Public Health was given wider powers by parliament to impose measures in the interest of public health.

Most non-essential shops and service providers were ordered closed on Monday in the latest of a series of measures which have so far also included a ban on all travel, a ban on large gatherings, the closure of schools and a ban on all organised public activities.

Thousands of workers have spent the past few days working from home. 

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