Updated 1.18pm with minister's reaction

Malta has recorded another 224 cases of COVID-19 - its highest daily total since the start of the pandemic.

One new death was also reported on Wednesday, raising the overall death toll to 227 people.

The previous record of new cases was 218 on November 2.

The announcement comes a day before state schools are due to reopen after the Christmas holidays. Health authorities had warned that an increase in family gatherings over the festive period would see a spike in cases. 

It also came minutes after the Malta Union of Teachers said it would issue directives to teachers unless the Education Ministry heeded advice which, the union said, the health authorities had given for schools to be kept closed. Neither the education ministry nor the health ministry have confirmed the claim. 

Analysis of the reasons for cases surge underway

Health Minister Chris Fearne told a press conference that the authorities are investigating the recent surge in new cases, with the main factors thought to be gatherings over Christmas and New Year, the colder weather, and possibly the new virus variant first reported in the UK, which has now spread throughout Europe.

“We are carrying out an analysis. If the recent increase is the result of public gatherings over the festive period then we can expect the number of cases to drop after a few days. But if the increase is because of the colder weather or the new variant, numbers will remain high and pressure of the ITU would increase. That will mean we will need to take more measures to protect the people and the health system,” the minister said.

Authorities said 3365 swab tests were carried out in the past 24 hours. 80 patients recovered, leaving the number of active cases at 1,845.

The new death was a 72-year-old man, who tested positive for COVID-19 on New Year's Eve and died on Tuesday at Mater Dei hospital. 

The new cases are being investigated.

Of the cases reported on Tuesday, 32 were linked to contacts with family members who tested positive.  Ten were contacts with work colleagues and 20 with other positive cases. 12 came from social gatherings. 

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