Groups of four or more people caught in public by the police will be fined €100 each, under new laws being introduced to enforce coronavirus social distancing measures. 

The fine, which will be introduced by legal notice, was announced by Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri on Monday. 

Camilleri said the entire cabinet had agreed to the new measure, which reduces the size of groups permitted to gather in public down to three from the previous limit of five.

Families who form part of the same household are exempt and fines can be appealed.

Police, who already have the authority to disperse groups of people, will now also be fining law-breakers €100 each. A group of six people, for instance, will lead to six €100 fines being issued. Previously, the law did not include any punitive measure. 

Bus stops are exempted from this new measure, however, commuters will need to keep a distance of two metres from each other. Wifi services in public places, such as community gardens, will be switched off. 

The police cavalry and canine sections will from Tuesday scout rural areas to ensure people do not hang out in groups of four or more, Camilleri added. 

Asked whether the army would also be roped in, he said the police force could currently cope, but he did not exclude the possibility in the future.

The minister warned that fines will increase if people did not cooperate.

Malta has 156 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with five new cases identified on Sunday.

Camilleri said it had angered him to see groups of people gathering in public places on Sunday, flouting regulations introduced last week. 

“The majority are cooperating. But we need to legislate to stop the minority,” he said. 

“Right now, placing yourself in danger means putting others in danger and endangering our health system,” he said.

The Sunday Times of Malta reported that a contingency plan for the COVID-19 outbreak included measures that would drastically increase police presence on the streets and the possible closure of police stations.

Parts of the plan are already being rolled out, with the police set to begin instructing the public to file any police reports remotely from Wednesday. 

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