The vast majority of shops remained closed on Monday as Malta beefed up its measures to fight coronavirus. 

 


As it happened

Live blog ends 

7.47pm This live blog will end here. Thank you for having joined us throughout the day. We leave you with a summary of the day's key events and a list of COVID-19 helplines. 

  • Malta has 17 newly-confirmed cases of COVID-19, takings its total to 107

  • Non-essential shops and services remained closed, as new measures to limit the virus spread came into effect. 

  • Pope Francis has postponed his May visit to Malta to a later date. 

  • Ministers were called to an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss new financial measures to help business. 

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.
If you an older than 60 and need help at home, dial 25903030.
If you work in the gaming industry and have questions, dial 25469111. 
If you are a tourist or have questions related to the hotel sector, dial 21692447.
If you want to report quarantine abuse, dial 21692447


UK nationals advised to return home 'now'

7.42pm The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office is advising any British people travelling abroad to "return to the UK now, if commercial flights are still available". 

You can read the UK government's travel advice here.


Fines may be increased to €10,000

7.28pm MPs are fast-tracking amendments to the Public Health Act through parliament, with both the government and opposition in agreement. 

The changes are designed to shut existing loopholes, Keith Micallef reports, with the amendments also providing for fines of up to €10,000.


Reminder about quarantine rules 

7.15pm Not sure whether or not you should be in quarantine? Read our guide to Malta's quarantine rules.


Confirmed: bus driver among COVID-19 patients

6.52pm We've confirmed that a bus driver was among the patients who tested positive for COVID-19 this past weekend. The Malta Independent had first broken the story. 

Buses the driver used have been removed from service for professional fumigation and drivers who used the buses in previous days have been told to stay home in quarantine.


Pandemic is accelerating: WHO

6.44pm More than 340,000 are infected worldwide, and WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the pandemic is picking up speed. Here's why: 

It took 67 days to go from patient zero to 100,000 known infection cases. 
It took 11 days to go from 100,001 to 200,000. 
It took four days to go from 200,001 to 300,000.


Brazil's Bolsonaro downplays coronavirus 'hysteria'

6.20pm Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro has said that the coronavirus pandemic - which has infected around 1,500 and killed 25 in Brazil so far - is just "a little flur" and that the media is "tricking" people into a state of hysteria.

Bolsonaro has made it a point to openly defy public health guidelines, taking selfies with supporters, encouraging rallies against his political opponents and even breaking quarantine he was ordered into. 


The perils of catching an early-morning bus in Buġibba

6.15pm If you're looking for a recipe for COVID-19 disaster, look no further than mornings at the Buġibba bus station. Photos taken early in the morning show crowds of commuters densely packed together, waiting for their ride to work. 

Malta Public Transport and Transport Malta have said they are not allowing passengers to stand on buses and introduced a 'no change' policy to limit contact with drivers. Perhaps they should consider introducing crowd control measures at busy bus stops like this one. 


Malta Stock Exchange down 3.6%

6.05pm The MSE Equity Price Index continued to decline on Monday as it fell by a further 3.6% to a five-year low of 3,727.733 points. The drop was driven by sharp declines in Malta International Airport, International Hotel Investments and RS2 which, in aggregate, saw their combined market value contract by just over €132 million.

MIA plummeted by a further 12.4% to the €3.52 level after partially recovering from the €3.50 level – a new low since mid-July 2015. 


Gozo ferry trips down 40 per cent

5.59pm Gozo Channel trips have almost dropped by half since the government advised against non-essential travel to the sister island.

Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri said trips were down 40 per cent while replying to a series of parliamentary questions from Nationalist MP Kevin Cutajar, our parliamentary reporter Keith Micallef tells us. 

Cutajar asked whether it would be better to instruct motorists to remain in the car during the ferry trip, in order to minimise social contact. 

The minister said that the significant drop in passengers meant that there was enough room for those on board to keep a safe distance. He noted that all passengers were being thermally screened both at Ċirkewwa and Mġarr, air conditioning was switched off and doors left open during the crossing, to improve ventilation and limit the need to use door handles. 

Camilleri also said that all vessels were being fumigated on a daily basis at night time.


How social distancing breaks the infection chain 

5.41pm Health Minister Chris Fearne has published a tweet to encourage - and explain - social distancing. 

It features an interesting graphic which depicts how one person's decision to stay home can prevent dozens of infections further down the line. 


 

Bus driver infection reports

5.28pm There are reports in local media stating that Malta Public Transport has confirmed that a bus driver has tested positive for COVID-19. 

We've spoken to Malta Public Transport, who denied having issued any statement about this and said any questions related to COVID-19 should be directed to health authorities. 

We have reached out to them to clarify this and will update you as soon as we know more.


 

Three causes for optimism  

5.15pm Let's hit pause on the bad COVID-19 news for a minute and instead focus on some of the positives. 

1. South Korea registered just 64 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours. That's the 12th day in a row that it has counted fewer than 100 new cases.

2. Countries are starting to coordinate to help each other fight the virus. Cuba and China have sent doctors to Italy, while some Italian patients have been transferred to hospitals in Germany.

3. The USA’s Food and Drug Administration has approved a COVID-19 test which can detect the virus within 45 minutes. The test is expected to be made available for use by the end of the month. Current tests take around 6 hours to provide results.


Heritage Malta's cash flow concerns 

4.56pm With museums and historical sites shut, state agency Heritage Malta has found itself in dire straits: the drop in ticketing revenue means it might not have sufficient funds to cover employees’ wages.

Culture Minister Jose Herrera told parliament that ticketing revenue, which last year amounted to around €8 million, accounted to more than half of the agency's budget. He said government was seeking to tap new streams of revenue to try and compensate for the drop in revenue.


MPs disagree on when to hold financial aid debate 

4.48pm  An Opposition request to debate financial aid measures introduced to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic's economic impact has been refused by the government.

Cabinet will meet at 6pm tonight to discuss additional financial aid.

Opposition whip Robert Cutajar, who made the request for a parliamentary debate, said the government should first announce any additional aid measures in parliament before forging ahead with him.
 
In his reply, government whip Glenn Bedingfield said that a debate on the measures announced last week was scheduled to take place this Wednesday. He said that no further measures had been rolled out by the government, at least for the time being.


What is contact tracing and how is Malta doing it? 

4.28pm Every time a COVID-19 case is identified, public health officials get to work, trying to work out where the infection stems from and identifying anyone the patient was in recent contact with. 

Jessica Arena spoke to one of these public health detectives, to better understand what they do.


Losing your sense of smell or taste might be a COVID-19 symptom

4pm Doctors in the US say that anosmia - losing your sense of  smell - and dysgeusia - losing your sense of taste- should be added to the list of coronavirus symtoms. 

They're not the only ones. Earlier on Monday a professional organisation representing ear, nose and throat surgeons in the UK also made a similar request.  

Many doctors treating COVID-19 cases have noted that patients tend to lose their senses of smell or taste. 


BOV to close eight branches 

3.26pm Bank of Valletta is to temporarily close eight branches and reduce business hours for the remainder, in a bid to reduce the possible spread of COVID-19 virus.

Bank of Valletta said on Monday that as from Tuesday, it will close its branches at Cospicua,  Fgura, Fleur-de-Lys, Marsaxlokk, Msida, Qormi, Skyparks and Xewkija.

Last week HSBC had also announced the temporary closure of several branches, leaving open its branches at Valletta, Sliema, Mosta, Paola and Victoria.


More volatility on Wall Street

3.15pm Stocks fell 3 per cent in 10 minutes when trading opened in New York this morning. 

The S&P 500 was down 2.9 per cent, adding to the roughly 20 per cent losses it has sustained in recent weeks. 


In Belgium, police are fining people caught outside

3pm Police in Brussels have handed out hundreds of fines to residents ignoring lockdown rules in city parks, as restrictions intensify to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Officers handed out nearly 300 fines on Sunday in green spaces and around 100 per day for each of the preceding three days.

Fines range from €26 to €500 depending on the offence: standing too close to someone else is one, picnicking or being caught walking too far from your home address are all grounds for being fined. 


Lombard Bank offers help to individual clients

2.45pm Lombard Bank has said it will delay repayments for clients who have a home loan but have seen a loss of income because of the COVID-19 crisis.

It said that where required, it will grant a 12-month moratorium on 80% of the repayments due every month.


No, helicopters will not be spraying disinfectant tonight

2.32pm Misinformation continues to be spread across social media. Here's one message doing the rounds today: people are being warned to stay indoors from 11.40pm onwards, as "5 helicopters spray disinfectants into the air to eradicate the coronavirus". 

This is not true. Stay indoors to help stop the spread of the virus, but don't expect to hear any helicopters overhead. 


'Gozo has been short-changed' - Delia 

2.20pm Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia held a press conference today in which he discussed Gozo-specific measures during this crisis. 

Gozo has been "short-changed", he said, and the government had not even unveiled details about financial aid it had promised all businesses last week.

Gozitan business owners have made it clear they expect more from the government, saying last week's measures are a "non-starter". 


Around the world

1.55pm Some highlights of news from around the world this morning. 

More than 341,300 declared cases of COVID-19 have been registered in 174 countries and territories. 15,189 people had died as of 11am GMT today. 

Italy has banned all travel and shut down everything except non-essential industries and trades. 

In Germany, the government says it expects the economy to contract by 5% this year. 

Spain recorded a 26% day-on-day increase in COVID-19 deaths, with more than 450 people dying of the virus in 24 hours. Spain has more than 33,000 infected people.   

India is grounding all domestic passenger flights to limit the virus spread. 

Canada has said it will not be sending any athletes to the Tokyo Olympics, which are currently still scheduled to proceed as planned.


Social distancing put into practice 

1.22pm Journalists attending the daily COVID-19 briefings are getting their temperatures taken before they are allowed inside and being seated a good distance away from each other. Here's a photo our journalist Sarah Carabott snapped before today's briefing. 

Still no legal notice on shop closures

1.13pm The government issued a statement late last night listing which sorts of non-essential shops and services would have to close as of Monday morning... but there's still no sign of the legal notice which brings this change into law. 

The last legal notice published online dates back to Friday and relates to the incoming flight ban which began on Saturday. 


PA to restart its commission meetings 

1.01pm The Planning Authority has decided to restart public hearings for planning commission meetings, starting from this Thursday. 

Only cases with no registered objections will be heard and applicants or their architects will be able to take part via videoconferencing. 

In a statement announcing the change of plans, the PA said it had "invested heavily in ICT technology" to allow it to do so. 

Given that heavy investment, it should be pretty easy for the PA to start live streaming public hearings from this point onwards, then...


        

HSBC launches measures for individual customers 

12.56pm HSBC Malta has launched a series of measures to support personal customers, employed in a range of sectors, who may be affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The measures include a three-month capital repayment moratorium on home loans and personal loans. For more information, visit the bank's newly-created microsite www.hsbc.com.mt/covid.


Confusion and no straight answers from the PA 

12.48pm Eleven days ago, the Planning Authority said that all public board meetings would be postponed, to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Today - one day after authorities announced a ban of all public gatherings - it posted a public notice saying a meeting on Thursday would assess four applications led by construction moguls Joseph Portelli and Michael Stivala and development company MIDI plc. 

We asked the PA for an explanation, but couldn't get a straight reply. 

Keith Micallef has the story.


Former finance minister's advice to the government 

12.37pm Tonio Fenech served as Malta's finance minister during the 2008 global financial crisis and knows a thing or two about weathering a downturn. 

He's written an opinion piece for Times of Malta about his recommendations to deal with the current economic crisis.

"If we manage the situation well, we are small enough to make this a controlled, short economic bleep. Sharing the burden among everyone would reduce the impact and allow for a relatively faster economic restart after the lockdown period. Effectively, what I propose is an economic “time-out” manoeuvre," he writes.


Another 17 newly identified COVID-19 cases

12.31pm Malta registered 17 new coronavirus cases over the past day and has now 107 confirmed cases.

Ten of those cases are linked to recent overseas travel. The other seven have been classified as being ones of local transmission.  

More details about the new cases and ongoing press conference are available here.


Daily COVID-19 briefing to begin shortly

12.25pm Health authorities will provide their daily briefing about the latest COVID-19 figures in Malta soon. The briefing is expected to begin at 12.30pm - we will provide a video link as soon as it begins.


Media companies seek a helping hand

12.20pm A group of more than 60 media and IT companies including Times of Malta publishers Allied Newspapers Ltd. have written to the prime minister, calling for financial help to weather the coronavirus-caused crash in business.

Among their requests: direct assistance to cover at least 50 per cent of the payroll, a tax holiday covering VAT, FSS and national insurance and an agreement with banks to ensure loans and overdraft facilities at or near 0 per cent interest.

Other measures being put forward are subsidies to cover rental expenses, accelerated payments due from government entities, financing quarantine leave and facilitating applications for EU funds. 

These companies warned that failure to safeguard their future could have ripple effects on the gaming industry and affects thousands of workers who at the moment are relying on teleworking agreements to perform their duties from home.


Emergency cabinet meeting at 6pm

12.05pm Ministers have been summoned to an emergency cabinet meeting scheduled for 6pm tonight. They'll be discussing new financial aid measures to help flailing businesses. 

Unions and business lobbyists have been harshly critical of the aid package unveiled last week, saying it is just not enough to help save jobs or businesses from going under.  

Preparatory discussions about new aid measures were held over the weekend and were still ongoing on Monday morning.


Singing stars in living rooms across Malta 

11.56am Last week we brought you a selection of drawings children have made to while away the time indoors. 

Here's another way they've been keeping busy: by singing, as part of an online-only competition dreamt up by Moira Palmier.  

Check out Vanessa Conneely's article about the competition, complete with videos of some of the entries. 

Chela, 7 and Cesca, 10, sing their hearts out.


Ambassador donates his salary to Italy's civil protection 

11.35am Malta’s ambassador to Italy, Joseph Cuschieri, will be donating his March salary to Italy’s civil protection department. 

Rome-based Cuschieri said he felt a “moral duty” to contribute, given the scale of the tragedy Italy was undergoing, and hinted he would repeat the gesture if Malta ended up in a similar situation. 

Read more.


What if you need to buy a fridge? 

11.20am A reader has written in to ask a pertinent question about shop closures: what about people who need to replace or repair their fridge, freezer, washing machine or other appliance during this ongoing pandemic? 

"There needs to be some relaxation on these type of shops because I am sure people may need to buy an appliance to cook, or store food, which then will be essential," he writes. 


Doctors in the UK are getting mugged 

10.57am Here's a distressing piece of news, courtesy of Oxford University professor Trisha Greenhalgh: junior doctors at one London hospital have been warned that they are being targeted by muggers. 


Harvey Weinstein tests positive for COVID-19

10.45am Disgraced Hollywood producer and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The 68-year-old tested positive in prison, where he is serving a 23-year sentence.


Calculating infection rates

10.34am Wondering how the coronavirus spreads? Here’s statistician and researcher Vincent Marmara explaining how infection rates can be worked out for Malta.

Using mathematical modelling techniques, Marama says, the authorities can establish how many people might eventually get the virus, based on a number of factors. 

Seasonal influenza, he says, spreads from each infected person to an average of 1.5 other people. This means that for every two people infected, the likelihood is that it another three people will get the cold.  

COVID-19, however, spreads on average from one person to 2.5 other people. 

Coronavirus’ incubation period - the time when it is present in the body but no symptoms are yet present - is also considerably longer than that for seasonal influenza, Marama says.   

This, the professor says, is why social distancing will lead to a drastic drop in transmission. 

Marmara says that if properly applied, the local infection rate will go down to 1.5 people from every carrier, bringing coronavirus in line with seasonal influenza. 

The more social distancing is practiced, the lower the infection rate will become, he says, with the aim of reaching a point when one person gives it to less than one other person. 

“This will be the end of the epidemic,” he says.


Valletta is closed for business

10.20am Jonathan Borg took a stroll around the capital city this morning. The scene is somewhat surreal.

Video: Jonathan Borg


Comparing Malta's COVID-19 rate to that of other countries

10.12am Making forecasts about the spread of a virus is extremely difficult, given the variables and lack of data. But techniques used in other sectors, such as insurance, can be applied to the COVID-19 pandemic, with some interesting results. 

Actuary Dominic Cortis takes a look at how development factors can be used to assess the COVID-19 situation, and discovers why experts warn the worst is yet to come. 

"I would expect to have somewhere between the Singaporean and the average experience until the end of March, but anything less than 200 total cases would be an overly optimistic result," he writes


Pope Francis postpones his Malta visit

10am It was pretty much inevitable: the Pope's visit to Malta has been postponed to a later date. 

"The bishops of Malta and Gozo would like to take this opportunity to invite Catholics to keep Pope Francis in prayer," the Church said.

Photo: AFPPhoto: AFP


 

Malta and help for SMEs

9.50am Robert Abela has hinted that a new financial aid package is on the way. But there are also other things the government could do to help local business owners. 

Former MEP candidate Peter Agius has noted that several EU member states have applied for state aid derogations to help their SMEs. 

"We're still thinking about it," he says. 

"An urgent appeal to the government. Use the measures announced by [European Commission] president Von der Leyen so we can offer the hope of economic recovery following the coronavirus".


 

Get the hint? 

9.35am Our cartoonist Burlò's take on the current pandemic. 

Burlo'.Burlo'.

Check out more Times of Malta cartoons.


What will happen to the Tokyo Olympics? 

9.20am Almost every major international event due to take place in the coming months has been postponed or cancelled, with one major exception: the Tokyo Olympics. 

Canada said today that it would not be sending any athletes to the summer games. But postponing the gargantuan event comes with some major challenges.

Photo: AFPPhoto: AFP


 

Shop owners, let us know what you think 

9.04am Are you an entrepreneur or shop owner whose business is closed as of today? Share your experience and opinion with us by emailing newsroom@timesofmalta.com.


Clubber fined €30,700 for quarantine breaches in Taiwan

8.45pm A man in Taiwan has been fined Tw$1 million (€30,700) because he skipped quarantine to go clubbing.

The unnamed man was supposed to be in self-isolation after returning from Southeast Asia. Instead, he was caught partying in Taipei during a routine police check at a nightclub on Sunday. 

Authorities slapped him with the maximum fine possible because his night out was deemed "malicious".

In Malta, quarantine breakers are fined €3,000 for each breach. Some say that is not enough, and say those caught breaking the law should be jailed.


Ghost towns

8.35am Once again, Malta's streets have been emptied of traffic as tens of thousands choose to stay indoors, others are working from home. 

Playgrounds have been closed, shopping malls are locked and... who'd ever have thought of seeing Paceville devoid of people on a Sunday night?

Playgrounds have been closed as a precaution. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaPlaygrounds have been closed as a precaution. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Paceville on Sunday night. Photo: Gordon WatsonPaceville on Sunday night. Photo: Gordon Watson


COVID-19 around the world

8.30am Malta registered 17 new cases of COVID-19 between Saturday and Sunday, which means until now there are 90 known cases.

On Monday morning, there were almost 340,000 coronavirus cases around the world. A total of 14,700 had died, more than 99,000 people have recovered. 215,450 have a mild condition. 


Closed until further notice

8.20am Several shops, which are deemed "non-essential" have been forced to remain shut until further notice to avoid the possibility of crowds gathering. Health Minister Chris Fearne gave details on Sunday. 

The shops which have to close are those whose main business relate to the sale of clothing, sportswear, jewellery, handbags and leather goods, costume jewellery and accessories, footwear, non-prescription eyewear, perfumeries, beauty products, haberdasheries, soft furnishings, household appliances, souvenirs, discounted items, luggage, toys, hobbies, furniture, florists and vaping.

Any shops or outlets not obeying the order will face with a €3,000 fine.


Good morning

8am Welcome to our live blog. We will keep you updated with whatever's happening in Malta and overseas to try to deal with the virus which has killed thousands. 

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