Malta registered 17 new cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Sunday. 

The country has now confirmed 90 cases of the novel coronavirus so far.

Fearne, together with Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci, updated the public on the COVID-19 situation in a live press conference.

Fearne dismissed rumours, fuelled on social media, that any patient had died. Of the 90 patients, one is in intensive care while a further 27 are hospitalised. The rest are recovering at home, he said.

Gauci said 276 swab tests were carried out on Saturday.

Ten of the 17 new cases are related to recent travel overseas, which have now been stopped.

With borders now closed, health authorities' strategy "will now focus on limiting local transmission," Gauci said. 

Fearne said that the country would now be increasing its virus containment measures, with all non-essential shops and services providers to remain closed as of Monday morning and all public gatherings banned. 

Case details 

Cases 1 and 2

An 18-year-old Maltese woman, and man, 73, in connection with travel to the UK.

Cases 3 and 4

Maltese, 22, and Swede, 50, in connection with travel to north Italy.

Case 5

Hungarian boy who probably contracted the virus from his father.

Case 6 

Finn, 24, who returned to Malta from Vienna.

Case 7

Maltese man, 51, who travelled back to Malta from Morocco.

Case 8

Maltese woman, 26, who was in contact with another person who had already tested positive on arrival from Belgium.

Case 9

Maltese woman, 46, who was in contact with someone who had travelled to Germany.

Case 10

Maltese woman whose partner works with tourists.

The other seven cases have no link to known cases or overseas travel, Gauci said. 

Case 11

Maltese man, 27, healthcare worker at Mater Dei Hospital.

Case 12

Indian, 42, works in Malta.

Cases 13-15

Three Maltese women, aged 33, 53 and 60 respectively. 

Case 16

A 74-year-old man.

Case 17

Somali man, 28, who has lived in Malta for more than five years.

Asked about whether Malta's number of cases was low, average or high, Gauci skirted the question and said Malta was one of the countries conducting the highest amount of testing and this was leading authorities to discover COVID-19 cases. It would be a more worrying situation if cases were hidden, she noted. 

Although the number of recovered patients in Malta was still two, Charles Mallia Azzopardi from the Infectious Diseases Unit said that a good number of the country's patients were recovering well.

Gauci was also asked whether the relatives of clients of a popular pharmacy in Balzan where a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 should self-isolate.

Earlier this week the authorities called on those who visited the pharmacy on March 16 or 17 to self-isolate and contact authorities if symptoms emerged. 

On Sunday, Gauci said the authorities had already carried out contact tracing and were in touch with clients who might have been at the pharmacy. The time they spent at the pharmacy was minimal, meaning exposure and, therefore, risk of contracting the virus was low.

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