More than 118,000 people in Malta are preparing for life under lockdown, with people over 65, pregnant women, the chronically ill and anyone they live with ordered to remain home as of Saturday morning. 

Friday's highlights: 

  • Malta registered five new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing its total number of cases up to 139.

  • People hurried to supermarkets to stock up on food supplies ahead of a lockdown coming into force for at least 118,000 people.

  • Confusion about the lockdown rules reigned: amid a sea of questions about the rules, the government reversed its original stance and said people living in the same household as those ordered to stay home would be allowed to go to work, while those ordered to stay home would be allowed out to buy essentials, go to the bank or attend to other "urgent" business.

  • Police are bracing themselves for a spike in crime in the coming weeks. 

As it happened


Live blog ends 

8.15pm It's been a somewhat puzzling end to the day, with sudden changes to lockdown rules and a bizarre Transport Malta U-turn.  

Read our summary of the revised lockdown rules

This live blog will end here. Thank you for following us and supporting Times of Malta. Send us your story tips, ideas and suggestions to newsroom@timesofmalta.com.   


Transport Malta shuts car dealers... then revokes its own order

8pm Earlier, Transport Malta issued a statement saying that all authorised car dealers and showrooms would have to shut as of tomorrow (Saturday). 

It has now issued a one-line statement revoking that order, without explanation. 

"With reference to Transport Malta’s latest press release about the closing down of authorised car showrooms, this decision is being revoked with immediate effect," the transport regulator said.


Partial u-turn on lockdown rules

7.20pm People living with vulnerable people will still be allowed to go to work once partial lockdown rules come into effect tomorrow, the government has decided.

Yesterday, Health Minister Chris Fearne had said that anyone living with over 65s, pregnant women or people with specific chronic conditions would also have to remain indoors as of Saturday. 

But that decision has now been reversed: a government fact sheet says that people in the same house as vulnerable people will be allowed to: 

  • Go to work
  • Do essential shopping
  • Attend medical appointments
  • Exercise their child visitation rights (for separated parents) 

The fact sheet is in Maltese - we will be translating it and updating our lockdown Q&A to reflect what it states.

That is not the only change in rules: according to the fact sheet, which was issued in Maltese, people ordered into lockdown can also leave the house for a range of other reasons, besides attending medical appointments: to buy food, medicines and other necessities, and to attend to ‘absolutely essential or urgent’ needs.


Malta Public Transport urges passengers to keep their distance

7.10pm Malta Public Transport says it will be deploying additional buses to heavily-trafficked routes, after many on social media highlighted overcrowding at bus stops. 

The company however said it needed passengers to cooperate with social distancing recommendations and to board buses calmly and safely.  

"There are sufficient buses to transport everyone," the company said. 

A crowded bus stop, with little room to respect social distancing guidelines.A crowded bus stop, with little room to respect social distancing guidelines.


Diverting EU funding to health and economic sectors

6.50pm The European Commission may allow EU member states to divert funds allocated for other projects into the health and economic sectors.

The suggestion was made during a ministerial video conference led by Croatia, which currently holds the presidency seat of the Council of the EU. 

Another proposal would see state aid regulations change to allow member states to introduce assistance to small and medium enterprises and the self-employed. 


There is a 'chronic' global PPE shortage - WHO 

6.30pm A dire lack of protective gear for health workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most pressing threats in the fight to prevent deaths, the World Health Organization warned Friday.

"The chronic global shortage of personal protective equipment is now one of the most urgent threats to our collective ability to save lives," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news conference in Geneva.

The EU is using joint procurement to secure large quantities of PPE for member states, ensuring countries do not fight among themselves for equipment and keeping prices low. 

There are also shortages of medical equipment such as ventilators. The New York Times has reported that at least one hospital in the city has started treated two patients, instead of one, per ventilator. 

‘Ventilator sharing’ has only been used twice before – once as doctors in Las Vegas sought to treat patients in the aftermath of a 2017 mass shooting, and the second time just a few days ago by an emergency doctor treating COVID-19 patients in Italy.


More than 900 die in Italy alone 

6.10pm Italy recorded a large spike in coronavirus deaths on Friday with 969 new victims, the worst daily record for any country since the pandemic began.

There was some good news, though: the infection rate continued its downward trend, with the civil protection agency reporting nearly 86,500 confirmed cases in Italy - a 7.4 per cent increase, down from around 8.0 per cent in previous days.


Norway pumps millions into vaccine research 

6.03pm Norway has said it will add NOK 200 million (€17 million) into research for a COVID-19 vaccine and has pledged an additional NOK 2.2 billion (€190 million) in spending on vaccine research over the next 10 years, the country’s prime minister said earlier today.
 
The money will go towards research led by CEPI, an international vaccine research effort which was created in 2017 to fight the Ebola virus.  



“We are doing this in the short term to get a vaccine that can stop the coronavirus as quickly as possible. And we are doing it in the long term to ensure research in the coming years which will make us better prepared for the next pandemic, ”said Norway’s international development minister, Dag Inge Ulstein.


UK's chief medical officer displays COVID-19 symptoms 

5.39pm UK chief medical officer Chris Whitty has self-isolated after experiencing "symptoms compatible with COVID-19".  

It's the third blow for the UK government and its fight against the virus in the space of a few short hours: both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said earlier today that they had tested positive for the virus.  


Cat diagnosed with coronavirus in Belgium 

5.25pm In unwelcome news for pet owners, a cat in Belgium has contracted the coronavirus from its sick owner, the Brussels Times has said

A virologist told the Belgian press that the cat had developed symptoms – diarrhoea, vomiting and breathing difficulties – one week after its owner had. 

He noted that the virus had passed from human to animal, rather than vice-versa, and reassured people that “we consider the risk to people to be small”. 

The cat is the third animal to be confirmed as infected with COVID-19, after two dogs in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus. The dogs, however, had not displayed any symptoms. 


Brent oil dives to just $24 a barrel

5.13pm Oil prices continue to nosedive. Brent oil was down 7.33 per cent from Thursday, reaching prices it last touched more than 15 years ago, in 2003. 

Demand for has collapsed as the global economy has tanked, and to add to its woes, Russia and Saudi Arabia are in the throes of a price war, with each producer trying to flood the market as they try to outdo the other.


 

WATCH LIVE: JOSEPH CALLEJA SINGS IN SURREAL TIMES

5pm World-famous tenor Joseph Calleja is performing live from his home, exclusively on Times of Malta. 

Watch the performance by clicking here.


Italy's epidemic could peak in next days, experts say

4.50pm Italy's coronavirus epidemic could peak in the next few days, experts are predicting, but regional authorities warned the crisis was far from over, as four more frontline doctors died on Friday.

Italy's national health institute has cautiously suggested lockdown measures to curb the spread of the disease - which has claimed over 8,100 lives and infected some 80,000 people - may soon bear fruit.


A local chef has set up a modern-day 'victory kitchen'

4.42pm When authorities ordered bars and restaurants to shut, chef and restauranteur Rafel Sammut planned on adapting his business into a delivery service. 

Those plans have now been put on the backburner. Instead, he and his chefs are focusing their efforts on feeding at least one hungry family a day. 

Sarah Carabott has the full story.

Zach Demarco, Rafel Sammut and Tony Farrugia. Photo: Matthew MirabelliZach Demarco, Rafel Sammut and Tony Farrugia. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli


Joseph Calleja to perform live at 5pm 

4.32pm Quick reminder: world-famous tenor Joseph Calleja will be performing live from his living room in 30 minutes, as a morale-booster for people in Malta and elsewhere as they live through the ongoing crisis. 

The concert will be streamed live on Times of Malta. We will share a link when it's about to begin.


 

Germany plans to test population's COVID-19 immunity

4.32pm Germany, meanwhile, is planning to test 100,000 people to see just how many people have developed immunity to COVID-19. 

Der Spiegel has reported that a number of top infection research institutes are waiting for approval to begin testing the blood of subjects to see whether they have antibodies against the COVID-19 virus.

Antibody tests allow scientists to see whether a person has previously been infected with the virus and developed immunity to it. 

Malta’s superintendent of public health Charmaine Gauci alluded to the tests yesterday, saying that authorities are drafting plans to eventually introduce similar tests locally, to gauge the spread of the pathogen.


In the US, $2 trillion worth of plans hang on a single vote

4.25pm A single Republican representative is threatening to hold up a $2 trillion stimulus package which US president Donald Trump announced earlier this week. 

The US House of Representatives is hoping to pass the package later today. But Kentucky representative Thomas Massie is threatening to demand a roll call vote, which would force lawmakers to return to Washington DC to cast their vote. 

A furious Trump has called Massie – who is from his own party – a “third rate grandstander” and called for him to be thrown out of the Republican Party. 


An unexpected coronavirus victim: condoms 

4.15pm The world may soon run low on condoms, Reuters has reported, with the world’s largest condom manufacturer forced to shut down production due to the coronavirus. 

Malaysia-based Karex, which makes roughly 20 per cent of the world’s condoms through its brand name Durex, has not been able to manufacture a single one for the past 10 days. 

The news might prompt you to titter, but it is a serious concern for countries which rely on contraceptive use to keep levels of sexually-transmitted infections, such as HIV and AIDS, down.


How COVID-19 spread outside of China 

3.57pm The video below shows how the COVID-19 virus spread in countries other than China. It's the work of IT adviser Clayton Axisa, who used data from John Hopkins University to put it together. 

Note how Singapore and South Korea appeared poised for massive outbreaks, but then rapidly fall down the list.

Clayton completed the visualisation on Wednesday, which means it ends with Italy in the lead. The USA has since overtaken it and is now the country with the most COVID-19 cases. 

 


Smoking is a COVID-19 hazard 

3.33pm It's not often discussed, but it's worth highlighting: smoking increases your risk of coronavirus infection, because bringing a cigarette to your lips means your hands are regularly in close proximity to your mouth. 

Smoking also makes you more vulnerable to complications should you get sick with the virus, since it weakens your lungs - the very organ the COVID-19 virus attacks.


BOV cashiers will no longer accept cash deposits 

3.20pm Bank of Valletta continues to tighten restrictions within its branches, to protect staff from exposure to coronavirus. 

BOV cashiers will no longer be accepting cash and cheque deposits, the bank has said. 

An exception will be made for customers who do not have a bank card, though they will now be required to apply for a free BOV Cashlink card so that future deposits can be processed through ATMs.

BOV is already refusing any withdrawals under €500 from within its branches. These new measures announced today are intended to further reduce footfall inside bank branches. 


'Support the media in every way possible' - Andrew Azzopardi

3.10pm Andrew Azzopardi, who serves as dean of the Faculty of Social Wellbeing at the University of Malta, has added his voice to those calling for the media to be safeguarded from financial ruin. 

He's urging the government to provide media organisations with financial aid to ensure they can continue to function in this time of crisis. 

"At no moment in time is such information more crucial, particularly when we are calling on the public at large to make large economic and lifestyle choices for the greater good," the professor says. 

"I therefore call upon government to set up as soon as possible a financial package that can prop up the fourth estate in this crisis". 

Media organisations do not currently qualify for financial aid announced earlier this week. But their revenues have been decimated by the pandemic, with advertising down to a trickle and restrictions on people's movement badly hurting newspaper sales. 

If you appreciate the work we do and would like to help support it, consider giving a donation to Times of Malta.


 

All driving lessons cancelled

3pm Transport Malta is suspending all driving lessons as of tomorrow (Saturday), to minimise the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

The transport regulator had ordered issued instructions to driving instructors just last week, but it seems they're now taking no chances and are cancelling lessons altogether until further notice. 


UK health secretary tests positive for coronavirus

2.48pm It's not just Boris: the UK's health secretary, Matt Hancock, has also tested positive for coronavirus. 

He's doing well and working from home, he said on Twitter. 


Lawrence Gonzi's tips on surviving a crisis

2.42pm From the economic collapse of 2008 to the being on the doorstep of the 2011 Arab Spring, former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi knows a thing or two about managing a crisis.  

On Friday he gave his five tips for decision takers facing tough calls in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic. 

 


Robert Abela meets the kids 

2.30pm The prime minister met up - remotely, of course - with children to answer their coronavirus questions earlier today. Kristina Abela tells us: 

He told them he still did not know when schools would reopen.

“We will reopen the schools when we are sure that doing so won’t be putting people at risk,” Abela said in reply to a young girl’s question.

Other questions directed at the Prime Minister concerned how he was coping with all the work, whether he would consider making the day that this was all over a national feast day and what he loved most about the country.

Feast days were far from his mind at the current moment, he replied.  He added that even though the workload sometimes got intense, he was rising to the challenge with enthusiasm.

While the Prime Minister was continuing to work from Castille, he assured the children he was observing social distancing and taking all the measures the health authorities had recommended to keep him safe.


‘Partial lockdown should have happened earlier’ - PN 

1.59pm The health authorities aren't the only people giving daily Facebook live broadcasts. The PN has been too. Jacob Borg watched the latest to see what they have to say about the government's response to the outbreak. 

He reports:

Shadow Health Minister Stephen Spiteri slammed the government’s delayed response to the coronavirus crisis.  Spiteri said if Malta’s borders had been closed earlier, the country would not be facing as many virus cases. Up until Friday, we still had an imported virus case, he said. 

Spiteri criticised the “contradiction” of placing part of the population on lockdown whilst thousands of others were still using public transport and going to work in factories. 

PN MP Mario Galea called for the immediate setting up of a 24/7 helpline for people suffering from mental problems due to the isolation measures and anxiety about the virus. That's actually just been announced. See previous entry. 


 

Lonely? Dial 1772 

1.55pm The government has a set up a new helpline for the lonely. Call 1772 if you’re feeling alone, isolated, or just in need of sharing your emotions with someone else. ‘You are not alone’ is the motto behind the newly announced helpline, which will be operated 24/7.


Vincerò - we will win!

1.45pm A taster of what is to come later this evening. Remember to tune in to Times of Malta at 5pm to watch world-renowned opera singer Joseph Calleja live. We suspect this track will make it into the 20-minute show. 

Joseph Calleja sings Nessun Dorma from his home. Video: Joseph Calleja


Advice on the use of masks

1.29pm Lots of people are wearing face masks in an attempt to prevent themselves contracting coronavirus. The University of Malta has just issued some advice about the use and reuse of surgical face masks and respirators. 

First of all, according to Dr Marc Anthony Azzopardi, a lecturer with the department of electronic systems engineering, says surgical face masks are not effective in protecting the wearer from coronavirus. "The mask material has pores many times larger than a virus and is not tight fitting to the face," he says. However they do help in that they prevent the wearer from touching the nose and face with possibly contaminated hands.

Respirators, worn by medical professionals as part of personal protective equipment are different. They are fit tested and make a seal and are actually “electrical devices” that work using the physics of electrostatics to attract and then trap the tiniest of particles inside their non-woven electret polypropylene filters, he says. 

Neither should be reused and should be disposed of carefully, in case they become sources of infection. 


Four pieces of advice from professor Michael Borg

1.20pm Michael Borg, who heads Mater Dei Hospital’s infectious diseases unit, held a brief online Q&A earlier today.  

“A lot of ideas being bandied about are misguided,” the professor says. 

Here’s an English-language summary of what Borg emphasised:

1. Wearing a mask in public can be counter-productive
Masks are important in a medical setting, where people are in close contact with infected people.  “Out in the open, if somebody coughs the virus will fall to the ground and be diluted in the air,” he says. “One microbe will not infect you”. 
“If you wear a mask, at one point you will reach for your face to adjust it or to scratch an itch. And that is a much bigger infection risk”. 

2. How to keep your hands clean
Borg said he always keeps a bottle of alcohol-based sanitiser in his pocket, to keep his hands clean at all times. 

“The focus should not be on gloves or a mask. It should be on hand hygiene,” he says.  

When washing or cleaning your hands, you need to ensure all parts of your hands are being cleaned. Pay special attention to the area between your fingers. 

3. Stop worrying about letters or parcels 
Borg says he’s seen a video doing the rounds online, in which the virus was shown to survive 74 hours on a tabletop. But that is not a real-life setting, he says. 

The chances of being infected through a letter or parcel are close to zero, he says. If you want to be extra safe, read the letter and then wash your hands immediately. 

4. Keep active and eat healthy food 
If you have a treadmill, use it. If you don’t, spend 15-20 minutes walking around the house. Ensure you are eating healthy foods – our immune systems need to be in optimal condition during these times. 


Customs officials to be used for inspections

1.15pm Shop and restaurant owners, you have been warned: Customs officials will start inspecting areas of Kirkop, Mqabba, Qrendi, Safi and Żurrieq to keep an eye on any rule-breaking shops opening against the law. The inspections will begin tomorrow.


What do virus modelling projections look like? 

12.59pm Health Minister Chris Fearnesaid yesterday that local epidemiologists now had enough data to create models with a reasonable degree of certainty. 

Our reporter Jessica Arena asked Gauci what authorities' best- and worst-case scenarios looked like - but the superintendent of public health dodged the question. 


Are carers exempt from lockdown rules? What about asthmatics? 

12.56pm Carers who tend to patients in their homes (e.g. to give them insulin shots) will still be allowed to do so, Gauci reassures. 

As for asthmatics - if they are taking oral steroids or have been admitted to hospital with respiratory problems, they must remain indoors as of tomorrow. The lockdown does not apply to other people with asthma.


How to apply for a lockdown exemption? 

12.55pm Authorities will be providing details about how to apply for a lockdown exemptions later in the day. People will be able to apply via email or by phone. Applications will be assessed on a case-by-case basis by a specially-appointed board, Gauci says.


Police to disperse large crowds at bus stations 

12.52pm We’ve reported concerns about large crowds gathered at bus stops in the morning. The police will now be empowered to disperse those crowds and ensure everyone remains a safe distance from each other. 


Why the delay in reporting cases? 

12.49pm There have been instances when Gauci has announced cases in which the patient first identified symptoms several days earlier. 

She says this is because many people do not even realise that they are carrying the virus and take a long time to report it to the 111 helpline. 

She has again urged people with any symptoms – losing your sense of smell and taste are among them – to report them immediately.


Lockdown exemptions 

12.47pm Gauci is reassuring people about lockdown restrictions that come into force tomorrow. 

Any affected people who have nobody to help them buy food, tend to their animals, or who are unable to work remotely will be able to apply for a special dispensation to exclude them from the lockdown rules. 


Low case number 'not painting a true picture'

12.43pm It is the second consecutive day when Malta has registered five new confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

But that is most likely not the true number, Gauci says. There are most likely more cases but patients are not presenting themselves for testing.

“If you have symptoms, dial 111 and respect social distancing to reduce the virus spread and protect vulnerable peoples,” she says. 


Crowd control measures

12.40pm Gauci is reiterating that the police can now disperse any groups of five people or more. The measure was introduced because authorities were noticing people still gathering in groups outdoors, she says. 

Places where people must queue up – banks or supermarkets, for instance – are being helped to introduce crowd control measures to ensure safety. 


Details of cases 

12.35pm We're providing constant updates from the press briefing in this article.


 

Five newly-confirmed COVID-19 cases

12.32pm Five new cases of COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, Gauci has said. 

Four of those cases were locally transmitted, with one linked to overseas travel.

Authorities tested 432 people over the past day, for a total of 4,462 swabs since the virus reached Malta.


Daily COVID-19 briefing begins 

12.29pm Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci is about to give her daily COVID-19 update. Watch it in the video below: 


Boris Johnson infected with coronavirus

12.21pm British prime minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for COVID-19, his office has said. He has “mild” symptoms, No. 10 said.

Photo: AFPPhoto: AFP


Life lessons from 14 days of isolation

12.18pm Being locked up at home, unable to leave sounds daunting. But there are also positive sides to the experience. 

Vanessa Conneely caught up with three people who had gone into quarantine two weeks ago, to see how they coped... and what they learned from the experience.

Read 'Our lives in quarantine'.


How criminals profit from the coronavirus pandemic 

12.07pm Within every crisis lies an opportunity. That applies to criminals, too. 

Europol has released a report looking at what it calls 'pandemic profiteering'.

Criminals are exploiting the pandemic by taking advantage of the increased demand for certain goods, decreased mobility of people and the fact that people are now spending longer online. 

Here are a couple of real-life examples: 

  • In the Czech Republic, a cyber attack forced a hospital to shut down its entire IT network, postpone surgeries and move acute patients to another hospital.

  • More than 34,000 counterfeit surgical masks were seized in Europol-backed operations in just one week between March 3 and 10.

  • A company sent €6.6m to buy alcohol gels and surgical masks to a company registered in Singapore... but never received the goods.

Lockdown questions... and some answers

11.53am We're still waiting for health authorities to issue their fact sheet with more details about the partial lockdown that will come into force as of tomorrow (Saturday) morning. 

Reminder: Over 65s, pregnant women and people with a number of chronic conditions will have to remain indoors. So too will their household members. 

In the meantime, Claire Caruana has put together some of the most frequently asked questions you've been asking us, together with some answers. 

Keep in mind that there are many questions which we do not have answers to yet. We've included examples of some such questions in the article, too. 

Read 'Lockdown questions and answers'.


Metsola rallies to media's defence

11.48am MEP Roberta Metsola has backed calls for the media to be helped through this challenging time. 

"At all times, but particularly in a crisis like this, media outlets are crucial to ensure people get the truth however difficult it may be to process," Metsola wrote on Twitter.

"They are essential to our democracy and essential for us to get through this now. They must be supported."


Lockdown-affected architects get KTP guidance

11.40am The Kamra tal-Periti has published a notice with guidance for all architects and civil engineers who, as of Saturday, will have to remain indoors. 

The first thing they must do is contact all their clients, to let them know. If they do not have someone to delegate responsibilities to, they should then fill in the relevant form provided by the KTP. 

Many architects might be wondering what they should do if they are responsible for sites which pose a significant danger if works were to be suddenly halted. The KTP has a form for that, too.  


Increase in deficit

11.25am Official figures just released showed the government’s consolidated fund reported a deficit of €98.4 million by the end of February. 

Expect deficit figures to shoot up in the coming months, as the government is forced to fork out more and earn less to try to contain the economic fallout from the coronavirus.


Prime Minister discussing COVID-19 with children

11.08am Robert Abela is currently doing a live Facebook chat with children. In one intervention, the prime minister says all indications are that schools will not open any time soon.  

Here's the link:


Misinformation can kill you 

10.59am Here’s a horrific story from Iran: nearly 300 people have died in the country after they ingested methanol in the false belief that it kills the COVID-19 virus. Around 1,000 more have been blinded or left badly sick. 

The false belief was spread through social media, and with many Iranians not trusting their government to tell them the truth, it seems the misconception has taken root, with fatal consequences. 

Methanol can cause organ and brain damage, blindness and leave people in comas. It cannot be smelled or tasted in drinks. 

Remember - do not trust or believe everything you read on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social media platform, and avoid sharing unverified rumours or claims. Spreading misinformation can have dangerous consequences. 


Online storytelling with Trevor Zahra

10.52am Here’s another way of keeping your children entertained: beloved author and illustrator Trevor Zahra is narrating stories from his iconic book Ġrajjiet in-Nannu Ċens online, on the Sunday Circle magazine’s Facebook page.

Zahra has already narrated three stories so far, and they’ve gone down a treat, with more than 46,000 views so far.  

The next storytelling video is due out tomorrow, Saturday, March 28.  


An economic downturn like no other

10.45am Forget ‘V’, ‘U’ or ‘L’ shaped economic cycles: the recession the world is being plunged in is looking more and more like an I-shaped one, writes Lawrence Zammit, with no end in sight. 

“Every component of aggregate demand – which is what drives any economy – is down. Consumption and investment in capital are in freefall,” Zammit notes in a Times of Malta piece published today


Hunters missing the mark 

10.25am The country is going under gradual lockdown and people are being ordered to remain indoors. But that should not stop spring hunting season, hunters believe.

Since the Ornis committee, which usually legislates this sort of thing, is not meeting due to coronavirus restrictions, the FKNK wants the minister to do it by decree.


Questions about financial aid measures? 

10.15am Malta Enterprise has set up a website explaining the various financial aid schemes which the government has introduced to help affected businesses. But many entrepreneurs still have many unanswered questions about the aid packages. 

The Malta Institute of Management has now told its members to email their questions to iborg@erremme.com.mt. The institute will be compiling queries to discuss them with Malta Enterprise.


Police are expecting a spike in crime

10.10am The police are preparing for a potential spike in criminality as the economic effects of the coronavirus begin to bite, Jacob Borg tells us. 

Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said that the force was bracing itself for more crime in the coming weeks.  

The minister was speaking during a press conference that was, for the first time, held remotely. Journalists watched, listened and asked questions online.

Minister Byron Camilleri, flanked by criminologist Saviour Formosa to his right and acting police commissioner Carmelo Magri to his left.Minister Byron Camilleri, flanked by criminologist Saviour Formosa to his right and acting police commissioner Carmelo Magri to his left.

Replying to a question by Times of Malta during the virtual press conference, Camilleri said certain police stations may close due to a drop in the work being done there.

He said officers stationed there would be mobilised to carry out more foot and vehicle patrols in their locality.

We'll have a full story with more details available shortly. 


Turn off the lights this Saturday evening 

10am Tomorrow (Saturday) evening is Earth Hour - a global initiative that began in Sydney 13 years ago, to encourage people to think long and hard about protecting the planet.

Taking part is simple - just switch off all the lights for one hour, starting at 8.30pm. Use the 60 minutes of darkness to meditate, exercise or just take a nap - you'll be doing the planet a favour.

Here's a link to the local Facebook event.


COVID-19 briefing at 12.30pm

9.45am Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci will be giving her daily COVID-19 briefing at 12.30pm. We'll provide a video link, as well as updates in English, as it happens. 


Still no live streaming for courts 

9.39am Local councils have been live streaming sessions for years. You can follow parliament online. The Planning Authority has said it has the ability to live stream hearings too.

But there's still no such facility at the law courts, as Arnold Cassola has pointed out. 

"One hopes that, in this era dominated by coronavirus, other court cases or inquiries of national importance, are continued in empty halls, without the presence of the press or the general public, and are streamed live," the former MEP candidate has said.

That is not the only technological challenge our legal system faces: our law courts are also not equipped to accept electronic filing of judicial acts. All filings have to be made in person - a significant challenge in a time when many people, including lawyers, are unable to leave their homes. 


A treat from - and for - Hospice Malta 

9.31am  Hospice Malta will once again be selling Easter eggs to raise money for its services. The organisation supports treatment that helps relieve pain and suffering of patients with cancer, motor neurone disease, end of life respiratory, cardiac, renal and liver disease, as well as their families. 

There are a variety of Easter eggs available, with delivery to your door. You can order online or by calling 79009616.

You've got until Wednesday April 8 to order. 


Journalist lobby writes to the prime minister

9.20am Malta’s journalism body has written to the prime minister and urged him to extend financial aid announced earlier this week to journalists and the media sector. 

In the letter, the Institute of Maltese Journalists noted that the media sector had been given financial aid by various European governments, and urged the Maltese government to do the same. 

Financial aid measures announced by the government this week do not apply to the media sector and it is also unclear whether freelance journalists are eligible for aid. 

Although the media has continued to operate throughout the crisis and we're working harder than ever,  the sector has been very badly hit by the economic slump. Advertising revenues are down (drastically) and restrictions of people's movement mean newspaper sales are down, too. 

If you appreciate the work we do and would like to keep it going, consider donating to Times of Malta and urging your local MPs to push for the media to be supported during this difficult time. 


Around the world 

9am China's president Xi Jinping told US president Donald Trump the two countries had to “unite to fight” the coronavirus, during a phone call the two leaders had earlier today. Xi said China wanted to share “all information and experience” with the US. The US is now the country with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world. 

Russia will shut all cafes and restaurants for one week as of Saturday. The country grounded international flights as of today but has stopped short of ordering a lockdown or quarantine measures. 

Brazil has decided to exempt churches from quarantine rules, with president Jair Bolsonaro saying places of worship are “essential services” like supermarkets and pharmacies. Bolsonaro has said that the coronavirus crisis is being blown out of proportion, blaming the media for “hysteria”. 

Vietnam is limiting domestic flights and has ordered a halt to all new rice export contracts as it fights the coronavirus. The country – the world’s third-largest exporter of rice - will continue to fulfil existing contracts but has said it will not enter into new deals for now. 

Australia has ordered all returning travellers to spend 14 days in quarantine and roped in the army to enforce the rule.


A new type of group photo

8.35am EU member states leaders used to pose for a family photo every time they got together for EU Council meetings. Not anymore. 

Here's EU Parliament president Davide Sassoli speaking with EU leaders yesterday. Sassoli urged leaders to increase the capital of the European Investment Bank to help it to support small and medium-sized enterprises and also said he favoured the creation of a common debt mechanism - a nod towards the so-called 'corona bond' idea. 

Photo: European ParliamentPhoto: European Parliament


Rush to the aisles

8.25am With people told they have one day to stock up and then lock up, we're told supermarkets are experiencing heavy footfall this morning. 

Here's a photo of Lidl in Żejtun earlier today - the aisles are full, with people getting up early to fill their trolleys. 

Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci yesterday reassured shoppers that they were highly unlikely to get the virus from walking past somebody in a crowded aisle. 


Health Ministry to clarify lockdown rules 

8.18am We're informed that health authorities will be addressing the most commonly asked queries about the partial lockdown that comes into effect tomorrow. 

Expect that to land later this morning - we will of course share it with you as soon as it does.


US overtakes China for most confirmed cases

8.10am The big news dominating news headlines this morning is the fact that the USA now has more confirmed coronavirus cases than anywhere else in the world, including China. 

US president Donald Trump has said that the sharp rise in confirmed cases was a "tribute to the amount of testing that we're doing". 

More widespread testing leads to more cases which would otherwise have gone undetected being discovered.

Earlier today, Trump said that he had had a "very good conversation" with China's president Xi Jinping, acknowledging that China had learnt a lot about the coronavirus. 


Good morning

8am More than one in every five Maltese residents have until midnight to stock up on food and supplies and run whatever last-minute errands they need to sort out, with people most at-risk to the coronavirus being ordered into lockdown as of Saturday. 

After that, they will rely on friends, family or a government-run delivery service to bring them food, medicines and other essentials. 

Hundreds of you have emailed us overnight, asking questions about the looming partial lockdown. We will be identifying the most frequently asked questions and doing our best to answer them later this morning. 

Send us your suggestions, tips or story ideas at newsroom@timesofmalta.com or tweet me directly at @bertrand.borg.

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