Malta has detected 110 cases of the novel coronavirus so far, 18 days since the first patients were identified. 

  • Just three new cases were detected on Monday, but authorities have warned people they expect numbers to rise in the coming days.

  • Malta plans to build a prefab hospital featuring 60 ITU beds in eight weeks.

  • The government is expected to unveil a new, revised financial aid package for businesses later on Tuesday.

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


As it happened

In Italy, a mass with a difference  

6.32pm We leave you on a lighter note. Running a live stream for the first time is more often than not a technical nightmare. Spare a thought for this Italian priest, who accidentally activated his phone's video filters when he began his stream. 

This live blog will end here. Thank you for having joined us throughout the day. Send us your story ideas, opinions or suggestions at newsroom@timesofmalta.com


'What are Steward doing?' - Delia 

6.12pm Adrian Delia took a dig at the government's plans to build a prefab hospital to house COVID-19 patients, telling parliament that drastic action was needed given that Steward Global Healthcare and its predecessor Vitals had failed to deliver 400 beds at St Luke’s Hospital and another 400 beds in a new hospital in Gozo.  

Delia said if he was in favour of the plan, provided it was medically necessary. Nonetheless, he questioned the timing of the decision and its restrictive three-day window for bidders.

“We need to ensure nobody profits of this situation, as this would be an unforgivable, immoral act,” he said.


Delia in parliament... surrounded by MPs

6pm The Nationalist Party has been, on the whole, exemplary when it comes to social distancing practices. Here's a photo of three of their MPs seated a good distance apart earlier today, for instance.

Ryan Callus, Clyde Puli and Claudette Buttigieg speaking earlier on Tuesday. Photo: PNRyan Callus, Clyde Puli and Claudette Buttigieg speaking earlier on Tuesday. Photo: PN

Which makes it all the more jarring to see party leader Adrian Delia surrounded by so many MPs as he speaks in parliament today. 

Health authorities have been at pains to remind people to remain at least 1m apart, to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

The European Parliament has made arrangements to allow MEPs to vote remotely. It might be time for our legislators to follow suit. 


Summer festi fall victim to the coronavirus 

5.53pm No Olympics, no Eurovision, no European football championship and now... probably no festi.

The bishops of Malta and Gozo have issued directives to limit the traditional summer feasts – if they are allowed to go ahead by the health authorities - in view of current coronavirus concerns. 

Instead of the usual celebrations, feasts will be limited to a pilgrimage of thanksgiving featuring the statue of the village saint, to be held on the actual feast day or Sunday of that week. 


Malta increasing its testing capacity: Fearne 

5.44pm Malta now has the capacity to analyse up to 700 coronavirus tests a day, Chris Fearne has told parliament. 

The minister has also revealed that talks are under way with another private hospital to begin accepting COVID-19 patients. A similar deal is already in place with St Thomas Hospital.


Fearne on the decision to build a prefab hospital

5.33pm The decision to build a prefab field hospital was taken last Saturday, Chris Fearne told parliament, because the decision to suspend non-urgent surgeries means there are more doctors and nurses available to man additional ITU beds. 

Malta is already increasing its capacity of ITU beds to 100 (from roughly 20) and the planned prefab facility would add a further 60 intensive care beds, equipped with ventilators. 

Fearne said the prefab hospital would also include 30 high-dependency units, also with ventilators.


 

New financial measures to be announced tonight 

5.27pm The government and social partners have agreed on a second set of measures to help coronavirus-affected businesses later today, sources tell us, and the revised package will be unveiled this evening. 

At the heart of the revised package are beefed-up provisions to help employers cover more of their payroll. Measures unveiled last week helped cover roughly €350 of each workers' salary. But employers said that was not enough to prevent mass redundancies.

The government's claim that its initial €1.8 billion financial aid package was one of Europe's most generous (when adjusted for GDP) was also somewhat undermined by massive programmes unveiled by the UK and German governments in ensuing days.


'We are all in the same boat. Malta is no exception' - Fearne

5.15pm Health Minister Chris Fearne is speaking in parliament, as part of a debate to fast-track amendments to the Public Health Act. 

The amendments will, among other things, increase fines to €10,000 for anyone who breaks quarantine rules while being infected with COVID-19. 

Fearne has warned people to guard against complacency and said authorities are expecting COVID-19 cases to rise in the coming days.

“It is crucial to maintain discipline and abide by the regulations. If we think the worst is over, the virus will explode.”

Hong Kong and Singapore, which were considered as role models, are now reporting second waves of infections and certain restrictions have been re-introduced, Fearne said. 

"We are all in the same boat, and Malta is no exception."

 


Notice for Italian travellers stuck in Malta 

5.08pm The Italian embassy has urged any Italians stuck in Malta that there are a limited number of seats available on repatriation flights Air Malta is organising to Rome in the coming days. 

Any Italians who want to apply for a seat should email the embassy at cons.lavalletta@esteri.it. Be sure to include your name, surname, ID number, phone number and final destination. 

Italians trying to return to Sicily will be able to catch a repatriation ferry to Pozzallo.  

The Maltese-Italians chamber of commerce has the details.


A Tuesday afternoon on London's Oxford Street

4.59pm A 2017 study had calculated that Oxford Street, with an estimated 13,560 pedestrians an hour, was Europe's busiest. 

Quite a contrast from its current state. 


Free digital books in Maltese and English for children

4.40pm EU-funded digital reading app Octavo has teamed up with the Education Ministry to make over 100 digital books from their Qari għal Qalbi collection, available for free.

To access the books, you'll need a smartphone or tablet with the Octavo app installed. 

More details on their website.


Have you received your COVID-19 info booklet yet? 

4.23pm Post men and women are distributing information booklets about the coronavirus to households across the country this week. The booklet features basic information about staying safe, helplines and quarantine rules - in both Maltese and English. 


India is going under lockdown 

4.13pm India's 1.3 billion people have been ordered to stay home as of midnight tonight.

"From 12 midnight today, the entire country will be in lockdown, total lockdown," prime minister Narendra Modi said in a national television address to the world's second most-populous nation.

"To save India, to save its every citizen, you, your family... every street, every neighbourhood is being put under lockdown."


Ryanair does not expect to operate any flights until June

4.03pm Ryanair is grounding its entire fleet of planes and says it does not expect to operate any flights in April or May. 

The decision also applies to its subsidiaries such as Lauda or Malta Air. 

All passengers who had booked flights will, over the coming two weeks, receive an email outlining their options.


Domestic violence laws 'still apply', experts remind governments

3.45pm Marceline Naudi, who heads a Council of Europe expert body focused on violence against women, has warned that lockdown restrictions will be especially harmful for domestic violence victims, "for whom home is a place of fear, not a place of safety."

The economic repercussions will also be especially harmful to women, Naudi warns, as they make it harder for victims to leave their abusers. 

The Istanbul Convention still applies during the pandemic, Naudi reminded governments, and countries which ratified the convention (Malta included) had to do their utmost to ensure services and support for domestic violence victims continued to be offered.


 

GWU expects injection to safeguard workers' salaries

2.35pm Prime Minister Robert Abela is meeting with the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development to discuss the roll out of new financial aid measures to combat the impact of COVID-19.

Journalist Ivan Martin reports General Workers Union boss Josef Bugeja saying that he expected the government to announce a capital injection that would safeguard workers’ salaries. 

The measures, he said, should target those hardest hit by the virus. 

Earlier in today’s live blog we reported how Cabinet ministers met last night to discuss a revised financial aid package for businesses facing mass redundancies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

One of the key proposals government advisors put to the prime minister is to give out €800 per affected employee every month.

GWU general secretary Josef Bugeja addressing the news conference. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaGWU general secretary Josef Bugeja addressing the news conference. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina


It's literally in your hands, nurses say

2.30pm Nurses at the emergency department appealed for the public to keep regularly washing their hands and to keep their distance from others. 

Addressing reporters on Tuesday, nurse Daniel Said said the extent of the spread of the outbreak was in the public’s hands. 

Said was speaking at the end of a press conference announcing that nurses in the hospital’s emergency department will start being represented by the General Workers Union as they continue to battle the COVID-19 outbreak. 


Around the world: 

2.25pm In Germany, Angela Merkel’s government has unveiled a massive financial aid package worth hundreds of billions of euro to help flailing businesses

Moscow’s mayor has warned Vladimir Putin that Russia’s COVID-19 confirmed case total of 495 is not a true number, as many people “are simply not tested”. 

Poland has banned all gatherings of more than two people, with the exception of families, and said people will be forbidden from leaving their home except to buy essential supplies, work or walk their dogs.

Jordan has arrested more than 1,600 for breaking a curfew under which citizens cannot leave home except for emergencies. 

Estonia has commissioned a team of hackers to develop a chatbot that can automatically answer the public’s questions about the coronavirus. 


20,000 masks from China

2.10pm The Malta Trust Foundation has just received a consignment of 20,000 specialised face masks from China that it will be donating to the prime minister, GPs and NGOs to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Foundation head Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said: “It is heartwarming to see our friends from China – who have their own ordeals to face – coming forward to give tangible help to our country.”

The donation — a mix of surgical and KF94 masks, which can filter out 94 per cent of particulate matter and provides protection against droplets — stems from the collaboration between The Malta Trust Foundation and Chinese donors William Zeng, Nicole Yang and Li Hua.


Dutch orchestra proves you can't stop the music

2.05pm The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra can no longer get together to practice, due to social distancing measures introduced by the Dutch government.

But that has not stopped its members from playing.  The orchestra has released a video showing its various members perform Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, each from the comfort of their own home. 

"We’re adjusting to a new reality and we’ll have to find solutions in order to support each other," the orchestra said. 


Tokyo Olympics to be postponed

1.52pm The Japanese government and International Olympics Committee have agreed to postpone this summer's Olympics to 2021. It's the first time in Olympic history that games have been put off. 


The comfort of a good book

1.40pm If you’re stuck at home with little to do, you could do worse than catch up on your reading. 

Times of Malta is organising a remote book sale. Five books cost just €6, while €12 buys you a massive 20 titles. 

You can pick your favourite genre and we’ll select the books and deliver them right to your doorstep. 

More details on Facebook.


How does Malta's testing rate compare to other countries? 

1.20pm The World Health Organization has told member states they should be testing as extensively as they can, to try and identify coronavirus cases early and isolate them. 

So how does Malta compare? This first graph shows how we fare when compared to just European countries. But first, two caveats: 

1. Malta's data is 10 days old. That is because authorities do not publish test data online and the WHO does not accept media reports as a valid source. 

If we were to include the most recent testing figures provided to us, Malta would leapfrog quite a few of these countries and be one of the world's top testers.   

2. Not every country in the world is included in this dataset. Extensive testers Singapore, for instance, do not feature.  

Europe: Iceland is way ahead of anyone else, thanks to the intervention of a private genetics company, deCODE, which has offered to test every single person for free. Norway and Italy follow, with Malta in fourth place.  

 

How about on the world stage? Malta slides a bit further down the list here, with places like the UAE, Bahrain, South Korea and Australia all testing more extensively than us, according to official data - though Malta still performs relatively well.   

Malta will be launching two new COVID-19 testing hubs this week, and a private clinic is also offering its own testing for the virus, against payment. 


Webinar about COVID-19 treatments and myths

1.09pm The University of Malta's department of pharmacy will be hosting a webinar titled '‘Science, Myths and Realities on Treatments for COVID-19’ tomorrow (Wednesday) evening at 9pm.

The lecture will be held by professor Anthony Serracino-Inglott and there are 100 slots available. It is aimed at professional and technical academics, scientists and students. 

To register, send the department an email.


A standing ovation for coronavirus champions

12.48pm What are you doing tonight? Probably not a lot. Hundreds of people have signed up on Facebook to take part in a standing ovation at 7pm. 

It's for "people working in healthcare, the police force, soldiers and those  working in necessity retail outlets like supermarkets and pharmacies."


Extended deadlines for public companies on MSE 

12.30pm Publicly-listed companies on the Malta Stock Exchange’s Regulated Main Market and Prospects MTF will get double the credit term – four months instead of two – to settle their balances and late payment fees waived. 

The MSE said it would also work with companies which need extended payment plans beyond that four-month period on a case-by-case basis. 

Companies admitted to the MSE’s Prospects MTF are also getting an added two months to file their regulatory reports. 


All-clear for private clinic testing 

12.19pm Tests being offered by a private clinic are legit and in line with those being done by health authorities, Gauci said. Anyone who tests positive will be referred to the public healthcare system. 


How many people will get infected?  

12.15pm Gauci is asked what percentage of the population authorities expect will be infected overall. She says that will depend not just on the measures Malta takes, but also on what other countries do. 

She drives home the need for people to cooperate with public health rules.

"I understand it's not easy to stay indoors, but this is a situation we need to adapt to: for our own health, for that of our family and for that of the broader population". 


Gauci on prefab hospital plans 

12.10pm Gauci says a prefab hospital being planned will be located “as close as possible” to Mater Dei Hospital, though they have yet to decide on a precise location. 

She says building that sort of temporary field hospital is more cost-effective than trying to repair existing structures like St Luke’s Hospital, which need significant investment. 


Three new COVID-19 cases 

12.05pm Just three new confirmed infections in the past day, Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci has said, and all three are traced to overseas travel. 

But Gauci warned people not to get complacent: other countries had seen large spikes after apparent dips in infection rates, she said. 

Details about the new cases available here.


Wanted: Doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals

12pm Health authorities are looking to recruit doctors, nurses, dentists and other health professionals.
 
If you fall into that category – or know somebody who does – send an email to fmshr@mfh.gov.mt


Malta's online entrepreneurs 

11.50am There’s a Jeff Bezos in every pjazza, judging by the ads being posted to the Facebook marketplace. 

Notices for sales of disposable gloves, temperature guns, hand sanitisers and masks – many of dubious quality – abound. Some of the more niche entrepreneurs are even adapting things like barrier tape to the coronavirus pandemic and calling it ‘crowd control tape’. 

This mask will not protect you from the COVID-19 virus, and the WHO says you do not need to wear a mask unless you are in contact with infected people or coughing or sneezing yourself.This mask will not protect you from the COVID-19 virus, and the WHO says you do not need to wear a mask unless you are in contact with infected people or coughing or sneezing yourself.


What could a revised financial aid package feature? 

11.34am Cabinet ministers met last night to discuss a revised financial aid package for businesses facing mass redundancies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

One of the key proposals government advisors put to the prime minister is to dish out €800 per affected employee every month, our reporter Ivan Martin tells us. 

That is more than double the roughly €350 per month employers were promised as part of an initial set of measures announced last week. 

More than 80 per cent of that €1.8 billion package is made up of loan guarantees and tax deferrals, with €210 million in direct payments. 

Employers have said those measures are just not enough and ill-thought-out, leaving people who were fired better off than those retained in their jobs. 

 “The financial aid announced last week would see employers given around €350 monthly per employee, along with the tax breaks. But the unemployment benefit these workers could get if they registered with JobsPlus is significantly higher than that, so people are saying 'why should we accept that amount when we could get more if we register as unemployed?'” a source said.

One cabinet member confirmed that this issue was among the main matters being discussed internally, adding that a new round of “beefed up” measures will most likely also include help on banking and loans. 


France wants unemployed workers to get a farming job 

11.22am The French government has hatched a plan to put thousands of workers who have ended up without a job. It involves getting them into the countryside, to help the nation’s farmers with their annual harvests. 

Those seasonal jobs – around 200,000 of them - usually go to workers who migrate to France from eastern Europe or Spain. But with borders shut and movement restricted, there’s nobody to pick fruit or tend to livestock.

How could Malta harness the productivity of workers left unemployed by this crisis? Send us your suggestions at newsroom@timesofmalta.com.


BOV ups contactless card payment limit to €50 

11.15am You can now make purchases of up to €50 through Bank of Valletta’s contactless payment cards.

The bank has increased the maximum purchase limit (from €20) to make it easier for shoppers and shop assistants to manage transactions without touching cards or payment terminals, reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.


Stuck in Malta? Here's how to get home 

10.55am Despite the overseas travel ban which came into effect last Saturday,  the government will be allowing some flights to operate out of Malta over the next three weeks, to allow people stuck on the island to return to their home countries. 

Flights will operate to places like Cairo, London, Paris or Amsterdam, among others. 

Check out the full list of flights.


Slovakia plans to track quarantine breakers using phone data

10.50am Slovakia will be passing a law allowing the government to track people’s movements using mobile phone data to enforce quarantine laws. 

Other countries outside of Europe are already doing something similar.

In Taiwan, leaving your house with your phone while in quarantine triggers an alert to the police within 15 minutes. 

In Israel, a new mobile phone app keeps tabs on people’s locations and alerts them if they are close to the site of a recently-discovered COVID-19 case. 

In Singapore, an app developed by the government, TraceTogether, uses Bluetooth to to identify people who have been within 2m of a know COVID-19 patient for at least 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, in Poland police are using mobile phones in a more straightforward fashion: they are making people in quarantine send them selfies to prove that they are at home.


Malta hopes to build a hospital in eight weeks

10.35am The Foundation for Medical Services has issued a call to build a mini-hospital in eight weeks. 

It must provide for at least 60 intensive care beds, 24 inpatient beds, an X-ray room and other facilities. 

Companies which believe they can build the prefab structure in that timeframe have until noon on Thursday to submit their quotation. 

Read Matthew Xuereb's report about the call.


Want to be tested? That'll be €280, please 

10.27am As things stand, you cannot just get yourself tested for the novel coronavirus: authorities make that decision, based on the symptoms you report.

But that will change as of tomorrow, when a private clinic will start offering 'drive thru' testing services. Provided you have €280 to spare, that is. 

Claire Caruana has the full story.


COVID-19 daily briefing at noon

10.20am Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci will provide her daily coronavirus briefing at noon. We will post a live link as soon as that is about to begin, as well as updates in English for all the non-Maltese speakers who need to keep abreast of the news. 


Mental health tips to keep anxiety at bay 

9.53am Uncertainty. Confusion. Dread. The current crisis can be taxing on your mental health, and when coupled with restrictions on public life, can lead to anxiety. 

Here are some tips from the Malta Association of Psychiatry to help keep anxiety at bay. They range from eating well to ensuring you keep in contact with friends or family, to noting down your feelings and reminding yourself to exercise.  


Mġarr parish leading a food bank drive

9.45am A group of people in Mġarr led by parish priest George Schembri are organising a food bank to help feed people in need. 

Shoppers who want to help out the #SolidarjetàMĠARR project can either leave food in designated containers by the exits of participating food stores or donate money directly to the project through the secure cash box left by the Mġarr parish entrance. 

The money will help to buy items for people with specific dietary needs (e.g. gluen- or lactose-free). All things collected will be left untouched for 4 days before being distributed. 

Food banks are having a tough time at the moment, with donations drying up and distribution channels complicated by coronavirus restrictions. Spare a thought for them when you next visit the supermarket.


Adapt or die 

9.10am This crisis is forcing many companies to adapt their business models to this new reality.

Vanessa Conneely spoke to local businesses which are shifting their practices to adapt to the current situation.  

Here's another, larger-scale example from overseas. The $35 billion spirits empire Pernod Ricard, which makes anything from whiskeys like Chivas, Jameson or Glenlivet to Kahlua, Absolut Vodka or Beefeater gin, is now planning to retool its distilleries to create hand sanitiser.


 

The hopeful news from Italy 

8.45am Italy reported a second successive drop in daily deaths and infections yesterday. Deaths fell from 793 on 601, while new confirmed infections fell from 6,557 to 4,789.
 
"We cannot declare victory just yet," Lombardy’s top medical officer Giulo Gallera said, "but there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Riccardo Puglisi, an economics professor at the University of Pavia, shows how the daily rate of increase is slowing down. 


Wuhan to lift travel restrictions 

8.35am The city that began as the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, Wuhan in China, will lift travel restrictions on April 8. Other cities within Hubei province will begin to allow travel as of tomorrow. 

Hubei province’s more than 50 million residents have been on lockdown since January. Restrictions forbidding them from leaving their homes have been gradually loosened in recent weeks and authorities are now preparing to allow residents there to travel elsewhere. 

For several weeks now, the vast majority of COVID-19 cases detected in China have come from overseas travel, rather than local transmissions. 

Video: AFP

Around the world 

8.26pm More than 1.7 billion people have been asked to stay home in over 50 countries and territories around the world, including 700 million people in India alone. The WHO has warned that the pandemic is “accelerating”. 

The UK is waking up to a lockdown after new, stricter measures announced by Boris Johnson on Monday which only allow people to go out of their homes to travel to work, buy essential goods or exercise once a day.

France announced stricter confinement rules that will go into effect on Tuesday. Taking your children out or going out to work out must be done within a one kilometre radius from one's house, for maximum one hour and alone and once a day. 

Donald Trump appears to be going cold on virus containment measures, as the economic pain of the measures dents the US economy. The US president said [on Twitter, where else?] that the “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” 

The United Arab Emirates will suspend all passenger flights, including transit ones, for two weeks starting from Wednesday.


Testing, testing, testing

8.10am Health Minister Chris Fearne was singing from the WHO’s hymn sheet this morning. He said that two new testing COVID-19 hubs will open this week, to complement the one in Luqa. 

We know that one of those hubs will be in Gozo. No word on where the other one will be. 

The WHO has repeatedly argued that the key to managing this pandemic is to test for the virus as broadly as possible, to detect cases early and stop the coronavirus from spreading.


Welcome

8am Good morning, and welcome to this live blog. We'll be bringing you updates of coronavirus-related news from Malta and the world throughout the day. Send us your tips, stories and suggestions at newsroom@timesofmalta.com

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