Coronavirus has sparked drastic measures across the world. Five cases were confirmed in Malta by Tuesday. Here's a rundown of the day's highlights, as Italy imposed a total lockdown.
That's it for today
6.35pm We're calling it a day here but we will continue bringing you updates throughout the next days.
Thanks for following our live blog, please keep sending us your stories and questions. But please stop disseminating false claims, misinformation and stereotyping, especially on social media.
The unnecessary alarm is really making the lives of health experts difficult.
Sanitisers for schools
6.08pm Earlier Fearne told parliament that there are 2,300 hand sanitisers in schools. Education Minister Owen Bonnici said he had personally visited schools to ensure all classes had a sanitizer. He also said absenteeism in school increased by five per cent over coronavirus.
Fearne outlines what will happen if situation escalates
5.57pm Health Minister Chris Fearne has been explaining in parliament what will happen if cases begin to be spread within the community in Malta. So far, that has not happened.
If it does public transport would be reviewed and mass events would be restricted further.
A further 180 beds are being prepared, which would take the overall total of beds in the worst case scenario to around 300.
"God forbid we reach this stage," he said.
In the case of Gozo, which has no known case of coronavirus, any suspected case would be initially brought to Malta. If there were more cases, arrangements would be made at Gozo General Hospital
Putting things into perspective
We should of course heed the health authorities' warnings and advice about coronavirus. But the latest figures show that the vast majority of those infected are recovering with no problems.
- Cases so far: 116,895
- Recovered: 64,760
- Deaths: 4,095
- Active cases: 48,040 (42,161 in mild condition, 5,879 critical)
- Closed cases: 68,855 (64,760 discharged, 4,095 deaths)
China has the highest reported cases with 80,761, followed by Italy with 9,172 and Iran 8,042.
5.30pm Air Malta will fly a plane to Rome at 6pm on Tuesday to repatriate Italian residents stuck in Malta and bring back Maltese nationals, Economy Minister Silvio Schembri has said on Facebook. There will be a second flight to and from the Italian capital tomorrow.
If you are stuck in Italy and need to get back to Malta, contact the Foreign Affairs Ministry on 22042200 or email email@example.com
No payment during quarantine, unless there is teleworking, employers insist
5.15pm The Malta Employers' Association said it had not yet received official feedback to its proposals, but at the same time it was being inundated with many questions from members.
In the absence of such feedback it is advising members that:
- All employees who have travelled and who will travel to areas declared as high risk zones by the public health authorities will be obliged to spend a 14 day period under quarantine. This is not a matter of choice but of the safety of co-workers.
- Employers are strongly urged not to accept any persons who have travelled to high risk areas to the workplace. If possible, teleworking will be assigned.
- Unless the travel is work related, the period of quarantine shall not be paid by the employer, unless teleworking is being made.
- If the employee displays symptoms of the coronavirus, the period from when the symptoms appear will be regarded as sick leave, provided it is certified.
'All the lonely people'
4.50pm An Italian rock star promised to stream her next concert from home to break through the "loneliness" imposed by the government's social distancing measures to curb the new coronavirus.
Gianna Nannini, now 65 and a local celebrity who has around 30 albums to her name, took to Instagram to lament about life in the time of the deadly epidemic.
"The terrible thing about this virus is the loneliness," she wrote shortly after the government imposed nationwide restrictions on travel and public gatherings.
"I am in Milan and I want to play some acoustic rock songs online so that we can all feel a bit closer to each other and still be safe," she wrote.
Her more recent concerts have provided a blend of melodic pop and more hard-hitting rock that sells out stadiums to this day.
She promised to livestream her concert on Thursday at 1500 GMT.
Fearne: Coronavirus cases all 'imported'
4.43pm Health Minister Chris Fearne is updating parliament on the coronavirus in Malta. He said the cases diagnosed so far were “imported cases” meaning that no infections have taken place in Malta as so every patient was infected abroad. In Malta authorities are vigilant and prepared to be a step ahead, he said.
So far there are five cases: three members of one family and two members of another.
PN leader Adrian Delia expressed his disappointment over the fact that the prime minister was absent for such an important statement. Fearne interjected, saying it was rich for Delia to make such criticism, as the sitting had just been suspended for a few minutes to wait for the PN leader himself who was late.
Delia reacted again, saying his point was the prime minister had to date not addressed parliament on the matter.
How Malta relies on Italy for food imports
4.24pm Did you know Malta relies on Italy for a fifth of its food imports, according to the National Statistics Office? The government insists this won't be impacted by the Italian lockdown. These are the main ports that service Malta.
St Patrick's Day runs dry
4.12pm The restrictions to public gatherings of over 2,000 people will affect one of the most popular events of the season: the St Patrick's Day event in St Julian's. It's the biggest event for most bars in the area.
Abela said he is in talks with the organisers about cancelling it. It certainly draws crowds as you can see from this picture of last year's festivities
Abela: 'Tomorrow is another normal day'
4pm Abela reacts to reports of parents taking their children out of school over coronavirus fears.
He says people should go about Wednesday as "another normal work and school day."
He adds: "We are not hiding anything from the public. Today, there is no need to panic. I understand parents being worried but let us not let panic take over."
Coronavirus economic impact committee set up
3.58pm Abela announces that a special committee has been set to prepare Malta for the "undoubted" impact of the coronavirus on Malta's economy
Public events restricted
3.53pm Abela announces that open-air events will only be held if they involve less than 2,000 people. In the case of events in closed spaces, these must not exceed 750 people.
That probably means the upcoming St Patrick's Day parade will be cancelled.
He says: "We are discussing with the local council so as not to hold this event. We think this year it should not be held."
Abela: 'We are prepared for any eventuality'
3.49pm Abela begins his news conference by emphasising that there is "no need for alarm or panic". He says the country is prepared for "any eventuality".
He's announces a new measure: that the number of people in trucks bringing goods to Malta will be restricted to two.
Stop the gossip
3.45pm We are getting constant reports of stereotyping, fake claims and unfair accusations in relation to the coronavirus spread. Italian and Chinese nationals, especially young students, appear to be singled out, by other students as well as their parents.
One woman had to resort to social media to fight back claims her son went on holiday together with his father who had been diagnosed with coronavirus and proceeded to host a party.
"Kind soul, whoever you are, before you invent and speculate and create a useless panic please get your facts right," she wrote.
Have a story to tell? Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Abela gives news conference
3.33pm We're expecting a news conference from the prime minister any time now. Keep tuned and we'll let you know if he announces any updates on the coronavirus situation in Malta.
Maltese stuck in Sicily can come home
3.23pm Some good news if you are stranded in Sicily (or in Malta and wanting to return to Sicily!). Virtu Ferries has just announced that there will be a trip on Tuesday evening to help repatriate people.
"As a concession by the authorities, Maltese nationals and holders of a Maltese Residence Permit, currently in Italy who wish to return to Malta and Italian nationals currently in Malta who wish to return to Italy, may do so on the round trip scheduled for this evening, Tuesday 10th March."
3.10pm The government has just confirmed a fifth case of coronavirus in Malta. The new case concerns the 16-year-old daughter of the man who was confirmed positive on Monday. He contracted the virus after visiting Italy. Both are in good condition, the health authorities said.
Vatican closes Saint Peter's square for three weeks
2.38pm The Vatican has announced the closure of Saint Peter's Square and the basilica until April 3.
Watch: Inside the coronavirus testing centre
2.25pm See inside the coronavirus testing centre as Claire Caruana explains what will happen if you ever have to go there.
'We can't come home'
2pm Journalist Claudia Calleja has just spoken to stranded travellers, frustrated over the evident limbo sparked by the Italian prime minister's decision to lock down the entire country to try contain the virus spread.
In case of emergency or for more information, passengers should contact the ministry on 00356 2204 2200 or email@example.com.
Old habits die hard
1.45pm In an amusing moment, the Dutch Prime Minister held a press conference to urge people in the Netherlands not to shake hands due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Mark Rutte then turned and shook hands with Jaap van Dissel from the country's Public Health Institute, who was sharing the platform with him.
Mr Rutte was forced to apologise after the mistake was pointed out to him
Some good news for stranded passengers
1.35pm Air Malta said on Tuesday it is planning to operate a limited number of flights from Italy to return residents to Malta.
The flights will also be used to carry urgent medical supplies for hospitals and cargo.
We still don't know how many people are stranded in both Italy and Malta.
Meanwhile, Ryanair said it had suspended all flights to Italy until April 8.
What's happening in other countries?
In Italy - Some 60 million Italians woke up to a complete lockdown of the country, with people told to stay at home.
In Spain - Matches in the country's top two football divisions will be played behind closed doors for at least the next two weeks. That includes the Barcelona vs Napoli Champions League clash.
In South Korea and China - New cases seem to be slowing down;
In the Czech Republic - Schools to be closed indefinitely and events of more than 100 people are banned.
In Austria - Indoor events of more than 100 people and outdoor events of more than 500 people have been banned.
In Japan - Government has announced that the reselling of masks for profit will become a crime punishable by a one-year jail term or a hefty fine!
'Disease knows no borders'
1.15pm Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola has called for urgent EU measures to tackle coronavirus.
"We cannot allow scaremongering to cloud our judgement but we must be responsible. Disease knows no borders and we need to make sure European rules can respond to both the immediate health concerns and the impact on our economies and people’s livelihoods," she said in a statement.
Ironically, the president of the European Parliament Davide Sassoli said he was in self-isolation at his Brussels home as a precaution after having traveled to Italy.
Journalist Keith Micallef is informed Health Minister Chris Fearne will be making a ministerial statement in parliament on Tuesday around 4.30pm.
12.55pm Students who had previously skipped the Breakfast Club should provide a medical certificate to prove they are fit for school, a new directive by the Malta Union of Teachers says.
In a raft of new directives issued to educators, heads of schools and senior managers, the MUT on Monday directed its members not to organise and attend indoor events with 30 or more people.
Meanwhile, Maltapost are using alternative routing to transport the mail to and from Italy, since flights aren't operating, said head of communcations Josef Camilleri.
"So far we haven't had any problems. Mail from Italy has been arriving on time as usual."
No panic buying reported
12.45pm Reporter Gordon Watson visited five supermarkets on Tuesday morning to check if there's a repeat of panic buying.
He says it is relatively calm inside supermarkets as shoppers go about collecting their daily and weekly items. Toilet rolls, bottled water and other hygiene products remain popular from the customer’s trolleys.
Hold the line please
12.25pm We are receiving several complaints from people who are desperately trying to get through the coronavirus helplines 111 and 2132 4086.
"For two hours the number is completely dead. Then for the next two hours it says that the number you call does not exist," one frustrated reader said.
Others said they tried to reach Mater Dei Hospital and the Health Ministry but the person at the other end could not resolve their queries.
The people manning the helpline are clearly overwhelmed.
Air Malta also said it is currently experiencing a high volume of calls at its contact centre. In a Facebook post, it said agents were doing their best to handle all the calls as quickly as possible.
"We appreciate your patience in this matter and would recommend that only passengers travelling in the next seven days contact the call centre."
This must be the ultimate logistical nightmare for every airline and passenger. There are hundreds stranded.
On Monday, Air Malta offered a 40 per cent discount on its Go Smart product as well as its Air Malta Holidays packages, for travel across the network (excluding Italy) in April, May and June.
Your questions answered
11.55am Vanessa Conneely has sought official answers for more questions being asked:
When should I wear a mask?
According to the World Health Organization, you should wear a mask when you are coughing and sneezing. Healthy people only need to wear a mask if they are taking care of a person who is suspected of having COVID-19. It should also be noted that masks are only effective if they are used in combination with frequent hand-washing. After using your mask, dispose of it correctly.
Who should self-quarantine?
Persons who have travelled to, transited through or travelled from high-risk areas are requested to self-quarantine for 14 days from their arrival in Malta. They are encouraged to consider their social responsibility and the importance and seriousness of self-quarantine under the current global circumstances.
What does self-quarantine mean?
Self-quarantine means staying in your home or hotel room, and not leaving for the 14-day period you are required to isolate for. Only people who usually live in the household should be in the home. Do not allow visitors into the home. Those under self-quarantine should self-monitor their temperature twice daily.
Does this mean my family or other people I live with need to self-quarantine?
If someone in your home is self-quarantined, and they have maintained separation in an area of the home away from others (with their own bedroom and bathroom), the other members of the household do not need to self-quarantine.
What happens when I end my 14 days of self-quarantine?
People who have self-quarantined for 14 days without any symptoms are free to go about their usual activities. This includes returning to work, school, childcare and university.
'If I am stranded in Italy what should I do?'
The Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs says it is in constant contact and co-ordination with both Maltese embassies abroad and with the health authorities in Malta.
While Maltese missions abroad will be assisting Maltese citizens who require assistance in the affected areas, in case of emergency or for more information, Maltese citizens may contact the ministry on the following contacts:
Phone: 00356 2204 2200; email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
The ministry said it will take their details and contact them back with arrangements.
'I am travelling to Malta in the coming days, will I be stopped from entering?' No. Not unless you are travelling from Italy. But it’s important to continue to check the most updated information, right up until you leave.
'The phone rang at 2am telling us we couldn't come home'
11.30am We've been speaking to some people who are in Italy and cannot come home yet because of the nationwide travel ban.
Martina Vella and Clint Muscat are on a holiday in Puglia, a region in Southern Italy. “The phone rang at about 2am. It was Clint’s mother calling to tell us that the prime minster had just announced all flights from Italy will be stopped,” she told our reporter Claudia Calleja. The couple were meant to return home on Thursday aboard a Ryanair flight. They immediately called the Foreign Affairs Ministry who will be informing them on the way forward as discussions are still underway.
A government spokesperson told Times of Malta that Maltese citizens should follow the instructions regularly being issued by the pertinent authorities both locally and abroad.
In case of emergency or for more information Maltese citizens may contact the ministry on 00356 2204 2200 or email@example.com. The ministry will take their details and contact them back with arrangements.
Coronavirus in numbers
11.11am This is the global situation as of 9am GMT this morning, according to AFP.
- Cases: 114,151
- Deaths: 4,012
- Countries and territories affected: 105
The most affected country after China is Italy (9,172 cases, 463 deaths).
It's important to remember that so far in Malta, there have been just 4 cases and no deaths from the virus.
Coronavirus patient's school introduces new measures
10.57am The school attended by a 12-year-old girl who was the first person in Malta to be diagnosed with coronavirus has changed its attendance policy. Parents at her school have been told to keep kids who have travelled anywhere outside Malta at home for 15 days according to a letter seen by Times of Malta.
This is at odds with the advice from the education authority, which says children should be kept at home if they have returned from China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Iran as well as most of Northern Italy.
The global picture of coronavirus
10.49am There are four confirmed cases of coronavirus in Malta, and nobody has died from the virus. In other countries, the situation is much worse, as this graphic shows.
'Strength to our neighbours' - Robert Abela
10.44am Prime Minister Robert Abela has just tweeted a message of solidarity to Italy's prime minister Giuseppe Conte. The message, in Italian, reads: Strength and courage to our neighbours and friends in Italy. The coronavirus emergency will be defeated.
Virtu Ferries: ‘All operations suspended’
10.35am At Tuesday’s early morning briefing, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that ferries to Italy would continue to be used to ensure the transport of merchandise, medicine and food.
Attrans Ltd, one of the largest international hauliers in Malta, has told our reporter Kristina Abela that cargo is leaving and arriving as usual on the Tirrenia and Grimaldi Lines ships.
However the situation at Virtu Ferries is a little unclear at the moment. We’re told: “All operations are have been suspended until we get further information.” That includes those that would usually carry supplies.
As you’ll remember, all passenger traffic has been stopped between Malta and Italy as part of the coronavirus lockdown procedures.
Help the sick, pope urges priests
10.25am Pope Francis urged Catholic priests on Tuesday to "have the courage" to go out and help those sickened by the novel coronavirus, hours after Italy was placed on a nationwide lockdown.
"Let us pray to the Lord also for our priests, that they may have the courage to go out and visit the sick... and to accompany the medical staff and volunteers in the work they do," the pontiff said during a mass in Vatican City.
St Peter's Square in the Vatican - in the centre of the Italian capital Rome - was almost empty on Tuesday with only a few dozen people walking around, most of them without masks.
The Italian government has asked for people not to travel if they can avoid it and to avoid contact with the sick.
Steering away from hysteria
10.15am We are receiving several questions from readers which we will be compiling and answering shortly after seeking information and expert advice.
The authorities have consistently urged the public to refrain from spreading misinformation, especially through social media. And so say all of us. It doesn't help to add to hysteria and conspiracy theories when the experts are trying to deal with the issue.
Hand sanitizers out of stock
9.55am We are getting reports from many readers that hand sanitizers are out of stock from many shops and pharmacies. They have flown off shelve stores as individuals and businesses stock up on supplies to protect them against coronavirus infection.
Public health experts advise that cleaning your hands with either soap and water, or an alcohol-based solution, is one of the best ways to avoid infection.
Some sellers have jacked up their prices in stores and online to make a quick buck off the panic mode.
Scenes from a deserted city
9.45am Pictures are being sent by news agencies showing the surreal situation in public squares in normally vibrant Italy. The Italian Prime Minister announced an unprecedented nationwide lockdown on Monday night to contain the spread of the virus.
9.45am We are receiving reports from parents that teachers in a number of schools have not reported for work.
Teachers' unions urged its members not to succumb to “unnecessary panic and alarmism” and to verify any information prior to acting inappropriately.
Unions have issued strong directives to prevent the potential spread of the virus, including refusing to assign and correct homework to sick students, refusing to keep sick students in class and not attending mass gatherings such as mass or school assemblies.
The Prime Minister said there are no plans for schools to close their doors.
Lost in translation
9.30am We're receiving several messages from non-Maltese residing on the island requesting updates in English. All of the authorities' statements on the virus so far have been in Maltese. Considering there are tens of thousands of foreigners living in the island, it would help to disseminate information in English as well.
Your questions answered
9.20am Over the past days, we've received hundreds of questions from readers about the virus. Vanessa Conneely and Florian Wassmann have compiled some answers to the more common concerns. You can read the story here.
Email us your questions on firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll ask the experts.
9.10am The health authorities have just given details about the fourth patient found with coronavirus in Malta. He is a 49-year-old foreign national who resides in Malta. He had visited Treviso on February 23 and returned to Malta on February 27. He developed fever on March 5.
Public Health superintendent Charmaine Gauci said hundreds of other tests have proven negative.
Travel ban to Italy
9am Good morning. For the next hours, we will bring you coverage of the global coronavirus outbreak, focusing especially on any developments in Malta.
In case you missed it, Prime Minister Robert Abela announced early this morning that all travel by air and sea between Malta and Italy has been banned with immediate effect.
The most dramatic news is coming out of Italy where about 60 million people are waking up to their first day in lockdown. The unprecedented decision comes as the country's death toll jumped to 463, making it the biggest virus hotspot outside China.