Updated 8.58pm, adds PN statement

All residents at the Ħal Far open centre have been placed under mandatory quarantine after eight residents tested positive for COVID-19 in the past three days, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Sunday.

Fearne said the positive cases were isolated and that medical presence at the open centre was being increased. 

The medically vulnerable who lived at the centre were being relocated for better protection and more focused care.

Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said residents' curfew ended at 6pm so the 14-day quarantine started then.

The residents, who numbered around 1,000, were given all the necessary information and outside contact has been stopped.

UNHCR, along with refugee and migrant community leaders and NGOs, have over the past weeks been disseminating information about the COVID19 situation to refugees and asylum-seekers, to provide them with guidance on how to protect themselves and others from the virus and to give them any updates on latest news and restrictions.

An agreement has been reached with the Red Cross which is operating a clinic at the facility for those who need medical assistance on site.

All those found positive have been segregated within the open centre. The forces of law and order were on site to ensure that the residents remained in quarantine as the place was open, Camilleri said.

The decision was being communicated to residents who had to understand that this was being done for their own good and the good of society. They could not go to work, Camilleri said, as he urged employers not to encourage them to do so.

Laws had to be respected and everyone had to cooperate not to hinder the fight against the virus being waged by health authorities. The quarantine fine of €3,000, applicable under law to everyone else, would also apply to these residents.

Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci said random sampling was to be carried out to find if there were other people who had the virus. A risk assessment showed, however, that all residents were at risk because they mixed.

The eight cases are:

A 33-year-old man who tested positive on April 3 and another two, aged 28 and 24, who lived in the same cabin.

A 26-year-old man from Somalia and another two men who lived in the same cabin.

A 31-year-old man.

Another who tested positive at Mater Dei.

Another three patients recovered bringing total to 5

Earlier, Fearne said that another three patients have recovered from COVID-19 bringing the total number of recovered patients to five.

Gauci said these were a 12-year-old girl, a 55-year-old man and a 23-year-old woman. They will remain in quarantine for another 14 days to ensure they are no longer infectious.

Stay at home

During question time, Fearne said that people who had no reason to leave home should stay at home.

Exercise was important but should preferably be done at home. One could also go for solitary walks or with another one or two people. 

He appealed for discipline and focus to control the spread of the virus.

Hunting 

Asked about the opening of the spring hunting season, Fearne said this was an Ornis committee decision and hunters had to abide by the rules set by the health authorities.

Camilleri said the police were prepared for the season with the help of hunting marshalls and other forces of law and order to ensure that hunting regulations were not being breached. They would also ensure that those who should not be hunting were not doing so.

New medicines

Research was being carried out all over the world and Malta was in a joint procurement mechanism with other EU countries for any effective medicine which could come on the market, Fearne said in answer to questions.

The medicine would be acquired and distributed by the EU.

PN statement

The PN said in a statement the measure was being taken too late.

It said it had warned about the dangers of the spread of the virus at such centres and in prison 10 days ago but the government hoped for the best but did not prepare for the worst and the worst was now happening.

Because of this, some 1,000 people were now locked in tents and containers and the virus would continue to spread. This was a recipe for disaster.

The government should ensure that more swabbing was carried out at open centres and address overcrowding even finding alternative detention sites if need be. All measures should be taken for workers to be safeguarded in the most effective manner, it said.

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