Last updated at 8.30pm with Youth Council's call for school closures. 

Travel between Malta and Switzerland, Germany, France and Spain is being banned as from midnight on Wednesday, the government has announced.

The same restriction already applies for travel to and from Italy.

The decision has been taken because of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. 

 

Quarantine rules

Prime Minister Robert Abela told a press conference on Wednesday afternoon that arrivals from those four countries today, and anyone who arrived from Italy in the past 14 days has to observe mandatory quarantine at home.

People who live in the same residence as someone who has recently returned from these countries must also observe quarantine, he said. Tourists must remain in their hotel rooms. Arrangements would be made for meals or medicines to be delivered to people in quarantine.

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Arrangements will also be made to bring stranded travellers back to Malta. People stuck in Germany, France, Spain or Switzerland can contact a helpline on +356 22042200 for more information. 

Spot checks will be made by the police and anyone failing to observe quarantine orders will be subject to a €1,000 fine each time.

The shipment of cargo will continue normally.

Abela said people should refrain from unnecessary travel.

Furthermore, the elderly should, as far as possible, stay at home.

The prime minister, however, stressed, that there was no need for alarm. "The situation is under control and the country is well prepared," he said. But everyone needed to act responsibly.

"We will do whatever is necessary to safeguard the people's health," Abela said, adding that further directives would be issued, even within hours, if needed. 

Health Minister Chris Fearne said all six confirmed virus cases so far had been imported. More drastic restrictions would be announced if there was local spread. That could include further restrictions on public events.

Replying to various questions, the prime minister criticised businesses who had hiked the prices of sanitisers and praised the Malta Chamber for urging members to refrain from price gouging.  

Abela and Fearne also visited healthcare workers at Mater Dei Hospital on Wednesday, to congratulate and encourage them on. 

Robert Abela and Chris Fearne meet with healthcare workers. Video: OPM

Teachers' union requests meeting, wants schools closed

Meanwhile, the Malta Union of Teachers said it had requested an urgent meeting with the prime minister about the situation in schools owing to the COVID-19 concerns.

It said the schools were seeing a 'panic situation' with some schools reporting attendance of just 40 per cent of pupils.

Talks should be held with a view to eventually lead to the closure of the schools for a temporary period, the union said.

The prime minister speaking in his press conference at the same time as the MUT issued its statement, pointed out that there was no local transmission of the virus at present.

The government did not exclude the closure of schools and the university when so required by the medical authorities, he said.

In the evening, the National Youth Council also called for the temporary closure of schools and said that in the case of young children, one of the parents should be granted paid quarantine leave to care for the children. 

The shadow minister for education, Clyde Puli, in a statement later, said the education sector had not been well prepared - with only 20 sanitisers handed out to each school. Several schools did not have sanitisers for each class. 

Who does mandatory quarantine apply to? 

Contacted by Times of Malta to clarify the quarantine orders, health authorities explained that all those who arrived in Malta from Italy and other high-risk countries such as China, South Korea, Singapore and Iran in the past 14 days need to observe mandatory quarantine. To date they had been advised to observe voluntary quarantine.

Quarantine orders for arrivals from France, Spain, Germany and Switzerland apply for those who arrived today only.

Help for people in quarantine

People who must go into mandatory quarantine will be given help to source food or medicine, the prime minister said, through a special government delivery service. 

The situation in Germany, France, Spain and Switzerland

According to media reports,  341 new cases were recorded in Germany on Tuesday, the highest in one day, raising the total of confirmed cases 1,656. There have been three deaths.

France also experienced a spike in new cases on Tuesday at 372. This drove the total number of cases to 1,784. The number of deaths was 33.

In Spain new cases of the virus recorded on Monday almost quadrupled from Sunday driving the number of cases on Tuesday to 2,182. There have been 49 deaths so far.

The Swiss saw 100 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday driving the total number of infected persons to 476. Three people have died as a result of the virus. 

Air Malta advisory to travellers

Air Malta said Maltese nationals stranded abroad because of the travel ban should contact the Ministry for Foreign Affairs on +356 22042200 or by email on sitcen.mfea@gov.mt for repatriation flights.

Non-Maltese Nationals need to contact their respective embassies.

 

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