Updated 9.30pm with the Prime Minister's comments
People living in the same household as those told to stay home as of Saturday will be allowed to go to work, the government has said, in a reversal of its original decision ordering entire households to remain indoors.
The change of heart comes after thousands of affected people reached out to authorities as well as Times of Malta with questions about the original, unclear provisions, intended to protect at-risk groups from coronavirus.
According to the original decision, announced on Thursday by Health Minister Chris Fearne, over 65s, pregnant women and people suffering from specific chronic conditions must remain home as of Saturday.
Fearne said that anyone living in the same household would also have to go into isolation, or else “find alternative accommodation”.
The only exception made, the minister had said, would be to attend medical appointments.
That is no longer the case.
In a fact sheet issued on Friday evening, the government said that people living in the same home as vulnerable people would be allowed to go to work, go shopping for essential items, attend medical appointments or exercise child visitation rights, in the case of separated or divorced parents.
The reversal confirms a slight shift in position adopted by the superintendent of public health Charmaine Gauci on Friday morning. Answering questions, Gauci had said that exceptions would be made for people who were absolutely unable to work remotely.
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.
The fact sheet provides examples of what constitutes an “absolutely essential or urgent” need:
• Going to work for a critical reason and for a short period of time;
• Exercising child visitation rights;
• Feeding or caring for animals which are located somewhere other than their home;
• Going to the bank.
Although the fact sheet describes all these scenarios as “exemptions”, there is no mention of whether people must apply for an exemption. Earlier on Friday, Gauci had said that exemptions would be submitted by phone or email and assessed by a specially-composed board. That is not mentioned in the fact sheet.
The government has also decided that healthcare workers and people “in positions of leadership in essential sectors” are exempt from the lockdown rules. The fact sheet does not explain what constitutes an “essential sector”.
This is not a lockdown - Robert Abela
Interviewed on TVM, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that after listening to people's concerns and following a cabinet meeting on Friday morning, the government had finalised a legal notice listing recommendations for vulnerable people.
"This is not a lockdown. There is no lockdown for those aged over 65, vulnerable people or any other category of people.
"This new legal notice will put down, black on white, what we have been saying over the past weeks: the elderly are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and if contracted, they will suffer more complications," he said.
Abela added that there were no fines tied to these guidelines, however, he warned people that if they did not follow the authorities' advice, the government might have to launch harsher measures.
He urged people to only go out if absolutely necessary and to maintain a distance between themselves and others they might come across while outdoors.
"The more disciplined we all are, the quicker we can return to normality," he added.
Who do the restrictions apply to?
Anyone who is not a healthcare worker or in a “position of leadership in an essential sector” and who falls under the following categories, has been asked to remain indoors from Saturday.
• Over 65
• Insulin-reliant diabetics
• Using biologic medicine
• Recovered from cancer less than six months ago
• On dialysis
• Admitted to hospital due to respiratory conditions in the past six months
• Admitted to hospital due to cardiac issues in the past six months
• Required heart surgery in the past six months
• Attend a heart failure clinic
• On oral steroids
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