Health Minister Chris Fearne has announced limits on the number of people who may attend mass events after a spike in COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks.

From Friday, risk assessments will need to be carried out for venues which can take more than 100 people. 

The announcement came at a press conference hours after the nurses' union joined the doctors' union in warning that they would resort to industrial action unless mass events were cancelled.

Fearne said it was no surprise that some COVID-19 cases had been imported as Malta's ports were reopened.

He said social distancing had become a problem at mass events and he was therefore unveiling new standards of social distancing for such events to ensure the success achieved so far was maintained.

As from Friday, every event would be limited by the size of the venue, with no more than one person for every four square metres. 

People at mass events cannot be in groups larger than 10

Furthermore, within such mass events, there may not be more than 10 people together in one group.

People attending such events will need to leave a contact number with the authorities to facilitate contact tracing if anyone tests positive for coronavirus. 

Organisers will be responsible to ensure that the standards are observed. 

With agreement with the Church, no permits will be issued by the authorities for  band marches in village feasts. 

Fearne said the new standards apply for every sort of activity, including weddings. 

Asked about enforcement, Fearne said  event organisers who were not able to keep attendees in groups of not more than 10 would not be granted a permit.

Once permits were issued, inspectors would be able to check that conditions were respected.

Migrant cases to be included in Malta's total

On cases involving boat migrants, Fearne said that after the Maltese authorities sought advice from the European Centres for Disease Control, it had been decided that the cases would be included in the total number of active cases in Malta.

Replying to questions, Fearne denied that there were any disagreements within the government on the way to tackle COVID-19.

The minister said he would be holding talks with the unions representing the doctors and nurses following their warning of industrial action.

Fearne said the authorities had deployed more people to testing centres and call centres following the recent spike. More people were also being deployed to laboratories. 

Charmaine Gauci, superintendent for public health, said the medical condition of the current COVID-19 patients is good. One is being treated at Mater Dei Hospital, four at Boffa Hospital and two at St Thomas Hospital. 

Asked if she would start holding her daily briefings again, Gauci did not give an answer, but said it was important for the people to only follow official and reliable information.   

Most COVID-19 restrictions were lifted at the beginning of the month, along with the gradual return of air travel.

On June 14 Prime Minister Robert Abela had announced that restrictions on gatherings of over 75 people were being lifted on July 15.  

A total of 28 people, 19 of whom are migrants, tested positive for coronavirus between Wednesday and Thursday, bringing the total of active cases in Malta up to 140.

Medical unions' concerns

Earlier, the MUMN nurses union in a scathing statement accused Prime Minister Robert Abela of choosing “greedy businessmen” over the lives of vulnerable people.

On Wednesday, the doctors' union said Abela had given a bad example, with a concert and a mass political activity both recently held with neither social distancing nor wearing of masks.

Furthermore, the active promotion of mass activities by the tourism authorities, including Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli was creating “grave danger of a major and uncontrollable epidemic”.

The calls were backed by a host of organisations linked to the health sector as well as some trade unions and employer organisations.

Farrugia Portelli on Wednesday said it was about striking “the right balance”, which would ensure that the economic recovery would not be hamstrung, while public safety was maintained.


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