The Malta Independent 11 July 2020, Saturday

Watch: Groups of more than 5 will be dispersed; lockdown for people aged over 65, chronically ill

Albert Galea Thursday, 26 March 2020, 16:46 Last update: about 5 months ago

The government has announced that groups of more than five people will be dispersed by police with immediate effect while people aged over 65 and all others who have chronic illnesses are being requested to stay at home as from Saturday, along with relatives or persons who reside in the same household as them. Pregnant women are also being told not to leave their homes.

The new measures were made public this afternoon by Health Minister Chris Fearne as Malta fights to control the spread of Coronavirus. As of today, 134 cases have been recorded.

There are no fines associated with these measures, but Minister Fearne said it is imperative that these instructions are obeyed by all those who fall under the categories listed by the government.

Fearne said that they were starting to see patterns emerging, where there is a shift from the cases being predominantly imported, to those who were related to persons infected from overseas, to cases which are being locally transmitted.

“We are expecting to go into this new phase where the spread of the epidemic is predominantly local. We are still at the early stages of this epidemic”, he said.

He noted that the measures which are being taken gradually are always connected with evidence which they have and with the predictive modelling that they have. 

The new measures, which were agreed during a lengthy Cabinet meeting earlier today, are aimed at protecting elderly and vulnerable people from the virus, as it may cause complications of a potentially fatal nature in these people. 

Fearne said that the spread of the disease is still in its "early stages" but given what is being seen in other countries and what statistical models are showing, it is now the time to implement more measures to reduce the risks of spreading the disease. 

Fearne said that the measures announced today will affect 118,000 people, and they were being implemented to safeguard their health, given that the risks they face if they contract Coronavirus are higher than that of others. 

With immediate effect, police will be dispersing groups of more than five people who are seen gathered together, even if this is not an organised gathering, and will request that a two-metre distance is kept between them.

As from Saturday, people aged 65 and over will be obliged to stay at home. Fearne said that people who have chronic illnesses should also stay inside, including those who are less than 63 years of age, and hence still working. 

The people with the following medical conditions will be receiving a letter from the government’s Chief Medical Officer telling them of the obligation to stay at home: Insulin dependent diabetics; People taking biological medicines; People who have cancer or had cancer treatment in the past six months People with immuno-suppression; Those receiving dialysis treatment; All pregnant women; People with respiratory diseases that required hospital treatment over last year; People with heart disease who required surgery within last six months; People undergoing treatment at the heart failure clinic; and People taking oral steroids.

The lockdown also applies for those who share a household with those who are over 65 years old or those who suffer from the aforementioned health conditions.

Exceptions will be made for those people who have medical appointments which have not been postponed, and the Superintendence of Public Health can also give special dispensation to people who fall into these categories or are over 65 years old depending on their profession.

Those who are under 63 and are still working but suffer from the aforementioned health conditions, will be eligible for paid special quarantine leave.

Fearne highlighted that there will not be any fines introduced at this stage regarding those people obliged to remain indoors, however urged cooperation, highlighting that it is for their benefit. He also stressed that in major cities abroad situations overwhelmed the healthcare systems, such as in Milan, and said that this measure is intended to avoid such situations.

Listing further measures taken by the Ministry in the medical field, Fearne said that he had issued orders for the capacity of Gozo General Hospital to be expanded by Steward Healthcare. He said that he had ordered for the Intensive Therapy Unit in Gozo to be increased from 2 beds to 20 beds, and for beds reserved specifically for Covid-19 to increase from 31 beds to 120 beds.

As for St. Luke’s Hospital, also owned and operated by Steward Healthcare, Fearne said that the hospital is nowhere near in a state to be used for Covid-19 patients.

With regards to the pre-fabricated hospital which is in the works, Fearne said that a site had been identified in one of the Mater Dei Hospital car-parks and that after an MP - Jason Azzopardi - had alleged that a company knew about the process before it was announced, he had stopped temporarily stopped the adjudication process to get to the bottom of these allegations.

Answering questions from journalists, Fearne said that as long as people were still allowed to work, then public transport services should remain going as they are, with the current restrictions already imposed.

 

Fearne also said that Malta currently has 100 ventilators and anaesthetic machines in Malta and a further 20 in Gozo stocked and ready for use.  He said that there is a vast amount which are on order, and have entered into a joint procurement initiative with the European Union for an order of another 100 ventilators.

 

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