All people entering Malta as of Friday must spend 14 days in mandatory quarantine, the prime minister announced earlier in the day as Malta ramped up its fight against the novel coronavirus. 

Robert Abela said authorities would also be enforcing €1,000 fines for anyone caught not respecting quarantine rules. 

The tougher rules follow decisions on Thursday to close all schools and cancel mass gatherings, as the country steps up its fight against the spread of the virus.

If you have coronavirus symptoms dial 111 or 2132 4086. 

If you are stuck abroad and need assistance dial 00356 2204 2200.

If you are in quarantine and need help, including food or medicine delivery, dial 2141 1411.

If you need education-related advice, dial 2598 1000.

Additional reporting by Claire Caruana. 


Blog ends

7.10pm The London marathon has been cancelled, the Eiffel Tower has been closed and Germany has finally caved in and suspended its beloved Bundesliga. 

We will, of course, continue to bring you the latest news from Malta and the world on our website throughout the evening, but this blog will now end. Thank you for having joined us.


Social distancing in restaurants

6.57pm Business owners are adapting to these extraordinary times. 

Here's a cafe' in Birkirkara which has effectively cordoned off several tables, to ensure patrons remain a safe distance from each other.

Photo: Gordon WatsonPhoto: Gordon Watson


 

Sad news from Italy

6.32pm Friday has been the most lethal day so far in Italy's battle against the coronavirus. 

There were 250 deaths recorded over the past 24 hours, taking the total to 1,266, with 17,660 infections overall. That's a rise of 2,547 since Thursday evening.


How are other EU countries battling the coronavirus? 

6.30pm From travel bans to cancelled events, most European countries have adopted similar measures, albeit with some variation between them.

We take a look at the most common ones. 

The UK, meanwhile, is choosing to go down an altogether different route.

 


Doctors, unions want a total lockdown

6.20pm This morning we reported that doctors want a complete two-week lockdown of the country. Now major unions have joined that call.

They say that the new quarantine measures announced today are positive, but that more will need to be done for us to have a real chance of ridding ourselves of COVID-19. 

Read more here.

A worker wearing protective clothes disinfects an interior of a public bus in a bus-wash station in Bratislava, Slovakia. Photo: AFPA worker wearing protective clothes disinfects an interior of a public bus in a bus-wash station in Bratislava, Slovakia. Photo: AFP
 


PN wants 50% reduction in electricity bills

5.59pm The PN has suggested offering a 50 per cent discount on electricity tariffs for March and April, to help people cope with financial hardships at this time. Oil prices are down almost 30 per cent, they note.


Has your court case been postponed? 

5.42pm Some magistrates have decided to postpone some sittings. 

  • Magistrate Simone Grech has postponed her March 16 Naxxar district sitting to June 23;

  • Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras has postponed her March 18 sitting to June 24 except for the case Police vs Sabrina Grech and Police vs Gaetano Campailla, which will happen on March 25 at 11am;

  • Magistrate Rachel Montebello has deferred three cases scheduled for March 17 to May 28. These are Police vs Simon Paul Attard Montalto et; Police vs Antoine Bugeja and Police vs Pierre Falzon;

  • The case Police vs Marcus John Calleja was deferred to April 6 while all civil cases scheduled for March 18 will be held on May 20 instead;

  • Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech has deferred all her March 16 cases to April 27;

  • Magistrate Nadine Lia has deferred all cases on March 16 and 17 to May 26 and June 2. 

HSBC to operate from five branches

5.23pm HSBC Malta will be temporarily closing all its branches except for those in Valletta, Mosta, Sliema, Paola and Victoria (Gozo) as of Saturday. 

They’re doing this to help support employees who need to manage the impact of school closures on their families, the bank said. 

It has also urged clients to only visit branches when absolutely necessary.

More information on the bank's website.


Brazil president Bolosanaro tests negative

5.12pm Earlier in the day, some international media outlets were reporting that Brazil's president Jair Bolsanaro had tested positive for COVID-19. 

That's not true, he has now said. "Don't believe in the fake news media!" he wrote on Facebook. The statesman also posted a distinctly unstatesmanlike photo to go with the announcement. 


Four tips for supermarket visitors

4.45pm Supermarkets are absolutely packed these days, as people rush to fill their shelves. 

The crowds make them a health hazard in themselves - something Robert Abela acknowledged when he spoke to the press earlier today. He said there are plans to introduce measures to cut overcrowding at supermarkets. 

In the meantime, the owners of Park Towers, Valyou, Tower, Trolees and Lasco supermarkets have issued a joint statement with some advice for customers: 

1. Do not enter a supermarket if you have any flu-like symptoms;

2. Sanitise your hands before using trolleys or baskets [these supermarkets have hand sanitisers at their entrances]; 

3. Remain at a safe distance from others, especially while queuing;

4. Do not pick up items and then return them to shelves.

We'll add number five, which comes from a government statement:

5. Do not rush to go shopping - there is no shortage of food and food importers say they have more than enough to match demand.  


Lawyers told to avoid court as of Monday

4.32pm Lawyers have been instructed to not attend any court of tribunal sitting as of next Monday. 

The directive comes from the Chamber of Advocates, which says that the situation at the law courts is "not ideal", given the large numbers of people who tend to congregate there.

Exceptions will be made for "inevitable situations" and to allow lawyers to file judicial acts within legally-stipulated timeframes.


Tehran disinfected

4.21pm Iran has been among the countries worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 10,000 infected. 

Iranian military has now been instructed to clear streets and shops and to prepare to test every single person for the virus. 

The military is now disinfecting streets, as this photo taken in Tehran shows. 

Photo: AFPPhoto: AFP


Cruise ship turned away

4.17pm That didn't take long: as predicted, local authorities have informed a cruise ship carrying a COVID-19 patient that it will not be allowed to dock in Malta. 

Transport Minister Ian Borg made the announcement on Facebook. 


A shrinking EU? 

4.13pm The European Commission is telling reporters that it expects EU economies to shrink this year.

An EU official told a news briefing that it "is very likely that growth for the euro area and for the EU as a whole will fall below zero this year."

The final reading could "potentially even be considerably below zero," the official added.

A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.


Work from home, public sector workers told 

4.05pm Public sector workers have received a directive telling them they should work from home where possible. 

"All teleworking requests should be accepted," the directive says. It is signed by civil service chief Mario Cutajar.


Is an infected ship heading to Malta? 

3.55pm A Cypriot minister has claimed that a cruise ship carrying a COVID-19 patient is heading to Malta. 

The minister said that the ship had been denied permission to disembark passengers in Limassol and would now continue to Malta. Read the full story.

We're working to get an official reaction from the Maltese government, though we suspect the ship will choose to go elsewhere: under new rules announced today, any passengers who set foot in the country must spend 14 days in mandatory quarantine.


Infected doctor did not see any patients

3.35pm Saint James Hospital has issued a statement making it clear that a doctor who tested positive to COVID-19 following a holiday in Italy had not seen any patients since returning to Malta. 

"The doctor did not report to work since, and did not have any contact with patients, medical staff or hospital personnel since returning to Malta," the hospital said.


Live in Italy but stuck in Malta?  

3.30pm If you need to get back to Italy and didn't make it aboard repatriation flights, get to the Virtu Ferries terminal in Marsa by 5pm. 

A repatriation ferry will leave Malta at that time, destination Pozzallo. The Italian embassy has the details.


A Valletta kickabout

3.03pm What do you do when your shop is empty? The owners of jewellers in Valletta's 'gold street' chose to keep their spirits up with a game of street football. 

Photo: Jonathan Borg Photo: Jonathan Borg 


Five pieces of good news

2.59pm It’s not all doom and gloom. Here are five positive developments in the fight against coronavirus – all of them today. 

1. A woman diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this week is “in recovery” and has tested negative for the virus.

2. All of Malta’s confirmed coronavirus patients are recovering well and in good condition.

3. A research team in Canada has successfully isolated the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2). That will make it easier to develop tests and vaccines for it.

4. A new COVID-19 test has been developed by Roche, and it promises a 10x increase in testing speed, Bloomberg reported.   

5. The virus epicentre in Wuhan, China, reported just five new cases on Thursday – the second consecutive day with fewer than 10 new reported cases.


No standing passengers on buses

2.26pm Malta Public Transport has said that standing passengers will not be allowed on buses with immediate effect, to ensure people are not in close contact. 

Given the dearth of passengers on many routes this morning, that might not be too difficult to enforce. 

MPT has also said that it is now cleaning buses during the day (as well as every night) using chemicals instead of regular detergents. 

Passengers are reminded that bus drivers have been instructed not to issue change - so if you're getting on a bus and don't have a Tallinja card, be sure to have the exact fare on you. 

An empty bus on Friday morning. Photo: Chris Sant FournierAn empty bus on Friday morning. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier


What did the prime minister announce? 

2.17pm Missed Robert Abela's press conference, or don't understand Maltese? 

Here's what the prime minister announced on Friday.

Prime Minister Robert Abela speaking on Friday. Photo: Chris Sant FournierPrime Minister Robert Abela speaking on Friday. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier


What about the tourism sector? 

2.13pm Abela made no mention of economic aid for the private sector during his press conference. Speaking earlier, PN leader Adrian Delia insisted this was needed ASAP.  

The Malta Hotels and Restaurant Association will be holding a live conference call at 2.30pm. The new mandatory quarantine rules will effectively shut down Malta’s tourism sector. We’ll see what they have to say.


Hungary's Orban blames foreigners

2.04pm True to form, Hungarian PM Victor Orban has blamed foreigners for a coronavirus outbreak in his country. 

"Our experience is that primarily foreigners brought in the disease, and that it is spreading among foreigners," he said.

So far, Hungary has confirmed 19 cases of infections, nine of them Iranians (mostly university scholarship-holders), one British national, and the rest Hungarians.


Czech Republic shuts its borders

1.55pm The Czech government has decided to close itself off completely from the start of next week. 

"As of midnight Sunday-Monday, we ban all foreigners from entering the Czech Republic and, at the same time, all Czech citizens from leaving the Czech territory," Interior Minister Jan Hamacek told reporters. 

Locally, Robert Abela says that forcing all incoming travellers into quarantine will have the same effect in practice.

"Nobody is going to fly to Malta to spend 14 days in quarantine," Abela said. 


Mandatory quarantine extended to all incoming travellers

1.41pm Any person, coming from any country, will be required to spend 14 days in quarantine when they come to Malta. 

Authorities will be enforcing €1,000 fines for anyone caught breaking this and non-EU workers who breach this will lose their work permit and be deported.

Robert Abela has just announced the new measure at a press conference. Follow it here.


PM Abela due to speak

1.37pm


France bans gatherings of 100+

1.30pm Meanwhile, France is limiting gatherings to a maximum of 100 people. 

"The idea is that we can slow the progression and the circulation of the virus," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said. The measures comes into force immediately.


Beware fake news 

1.12pm The Broadcasting Authority has warned the public about fake news claims concerning the coronavirus, especially those on social media.

The BA has also urged media organisations to be careful in their COVID-19 reporting and to stick to facts, rather than speculation. 

We've seen plenty of misinformation being peddled in recent days - from claims about 35 'secret' COVID-19 patients to doctored images of falsified news reports.


'Businesses need government help' - Delia

1pm Opposition leader Adrian Delia has pushed for more clarity about how the government is going to help the private sector.

"Business has to help workers. But government has to clearly explain how it is going to be helping them. Otherwise it will be too late for many SMEs. Jobs will be lost and companies will shut down". 


Prime minister to hold press conference

12.49pm Robert Abela will be addressing the press at 1.30pm, we've just been told. He's holding a press conference at the Auberge de Castille.


The COVID-19 helplines

12.41pm Over the past week, the authorities have set up several helplines for anyone with questions or requiring assistance. 

If you have coronavirus symptoms dial 111 or 2132 4086. 

If you are stuck abroad and need assistance dial 00356 2204 2200.

If you are in quarantine and need help, including food or medicine delivery, dial 2141 1411.

If you need advice about anything related to schools or education, dial 2598 1000.


How does Malta's test rate stack up? 

12.31pm Health authorities said this morning that 889 people have undergone COVID-19 testing so far. We've put that into a more international context. Keep in mind that the data is constantly changing and that the figures for some countries listed may be a day or two old.  


England's Premier League suspended

12.19pm News for all you football fans out there, who have been watching eerily-silent matches played behind closed doors.

England's Premier League and EFL have now postponed all matches until April 3 at the earliest due to the threat of the coronavirus.

The Football Association has also postponed England’s international friendly matches against Italy and Denmark, scheduled for March 27 and 31 respectively.

Read more here


What about the first cases? 

12.14pm We've already told you that one of the people who first tested positive has now tested negative twice and is considered to be 'in recovery'.

The other initial patients diagnosed with COVID-19 are doing well, too. Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci says they showed practically no signs of being ill.


GWU anger about quarantine provisions

12.08pm The General Workers Union is angry that employees are being told that quarantine leave will either go unpaid or be deducted from their annual allowance.

The union said it would not accept measures imposed on its members without consultation, especially if these went against established procedures or collective agreements.

“The GWU made its position clear from the very beginning: quarantine leave should be treated as paid, special leave.”


How far has COVID-19 spread? 

11.51am Here's an update with the global figures as of this morning. 


 

Meanwhile, in football

11.41am UEFA have just announced that next week's Champions League and Europa League matches will be postponed to an undefined later date.

 


One woman diagnosed with coronavirus now 'in recovery'

11.33am Some good news. One of the women who tested positive earlier this week for the virus has tested negative twice now. So authorities consider her to be "in recovery".

She will be discharged soon but will remain under quarantine at home, Gauci told journalists earlier.


Empty chairs and empty tables

11.28am Our photographer Chris Sant Fournier has been out and about this morning. But he's almost the only one as usually-busy areas are emptied of people and tourists. Read more here.

An empty Upper Barrakka Gardens. Photo: Chris Sant FournierAn empty Upper Barrakka Gardens. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier


How many people have been tested?

11.15am Authorities have tested 889 people so far. Of those 12 have now tested positive.

There have been no deaths from the virus in Malta.

Here's a guide to what happens at one of the testing centres.


Police to carry out quarantine checks

11.09am As from today, police together with health authorities will be going round to check that those who should be under quarantine are abiding by the rules, health authorities have announced.

Confused about quarantine, check out the latest rules. 


Authorities expect local transmission

11.03am All the cases so far are imported, ie the 12 people had travelled abroad and felt the symptoms days after arriving. 

Superintendent of public health Charmaine Gauci said that local transmission is not happening yet. 

However she told a news conference that that is what health authorities are now expecting. 


Details of the latest cases

10.52am All three new new cases are people who recently travelled abroad. 

They are:

  • Maltese man, 45, who returned from Munich, Germany on March 6
  • Italian man, 40, who returned from Paris, France on March 6
  • Maltese woman, 30, who returned from Brussels on March 9

All reported symptoms three to four days after they arrived back. Read more details here.


Three new cases announced

10.45am The authorities have confirmed there are three new cases of coronavirus in Malta. Watch the news conference live. 

 

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