A ward in Mater Dei has been closed after a patient was among eight new  coronavirus cases, bringing Malta's total number of people diagnosed to 38, health authorities have announced.

The 59-year-old British woman, who had not travelled abroad, had gone into the hospital with a fracture on March 5 and tested positive after showing symptoms of the virus. 

She had been in contact with a healthcare worker who had tested positive for COVID-19, authorities said.

Superintendent of public health, Charmaine Gauci held a news conference to update the country on the latest developments on coronavirus. 

Of the new cases, the first is a three-year-old Maltese boy who was in contact with a patient who authorities had tested earlier. He had symptoms on March 15, had a fever and then tested positive. The three-year-old is in a very good condition and school was out so it was contained.

The second and third new cases are an Italian family who live in Malta. The 58-year-old father and his 15-year-old son travelled to Italy between March 1 and 5. They went into quarantine as soon as they arrived in Malta. 

A 59-year-old British woman is the fourth case. She had not travelled but had gone into Mater Dei on March 5 to hospital with a fracture. After showing respiratory symptoms, she tested positive and transferred to the Infectious Diseases Unit, where she is doing well.

A patient next to her tested negative. The ward was closed and remains closed until the situation is stable, Gauci said. 

"We also traced the staff and they are under quarantine," she said. "The woman had been in contact with a health care worker who tested positive. In this case, the contact the health care worker had with the woman was very little."

The fifth case is a 26-year-old Maltese woman who returned to Malta from the UK on March 13. She showed symptoms the following day but was under quarantine. 

A 28-year-old Maltese man is the sixth new case. He was not abroad but at his place of work, there was someone who had been in Sicily. The man cannot recall whether his colleague had symptoms but authorities suspect that is where the contact happened.

The seventh case is a 62-year-old man who came from the UK on the same flight as the other person on March 13 and had symptoms two days later. He had been under quarantine. 

A 52-year-old Maltese man is the last of the new cases. He had no contact with people who had a case and had not been abroad. On March 10 he had a cough and tested positive. 

"With this last case, we do not know where the contact happened," Gauci said. 
"We investigated and we found out that the man had been to a gym."

1,640 people tested

So far 38 people have tested positive of the 1,640 tested for the novel coronavirus, Gauci said.

Of those, 939 tests were carried out of people who had symptoms, were abroad or suspected of having the virus. Some 701 tests have been carried out at Mater Dei, all of which were negative except for the woman with the fracture.

Gauci also encouraged people not to hoard food, saying this could lead to "unnecessary problems" with food supply. She said that supermarkets will not be closed and there is no need for hoarding. The authorities are in discussions with supermarket owners about how to avoid crowding, she said.

Asked about Spanish students who had been kept under quarantine at the MIA airport, Gauci said the patient who had tested positive was recovering at hospital.

The other people in the group were being kept under quarantine at a separate location. The authorities are collaborating with the Spanish embassy.

Social distancing measures

She said the social distancing measures announced so far reduced the risk of local transmissions.

She recommended that all vulnerable people, including pregnant women, avoid unnecessary social contact.She said they were expecting an increase in cases as testing increased. She appealed to everyone to avoid contact with other people unless necessary. 


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