VALLETTA, Aug 7 – Malta banned mass gatherings and made it mandatory to wear masks in public on Friday as new coronavirus cases surged after having been reduced to zero for a week early in July.
Health authorities reported 49 new infections on Friday, the second highest daily number since the first case was detected on March 7. Nine patients have died.
Prime Minister Robert Abela ordered restrictions on public gatherings and measures to limit direct access to people in nursing homes, with visitors required to remain behind Perspex screens.
“This is not a time to point the finger of blame,” Abela told reporters. “We took all steps during this pandemic with the best interest of the public in mind.”
The decision to reimpose controls represents a sharp turnaround for Malta, which depends on tourism for a third of its GDP.
The Mediterranean country has conducted the third-highest level of testing in the European Union and had lifted restrictions and re-opened some overseas travel last month as case numbers fell. It now joins a growing list of countries forced to reimpose controls after early successes in controlling the disease.
Public gatherings in large spaces will be limited to no more than 100 indoors and 300 outdoors. Smaller spaces will be limited to one person per four square metres.
More testing centres are being opened after a surge in demand. Anyone found not wearing a mask in public faces a 50 euro fine with fines of 3,000 euros for organisers of large events.
Ireland, Latvia and Lithuania have banned travel from Malta or imposed a quarantine period for visitors from the islands. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending against non-essential travel to Malta. (Reporting by Christopher Scicluna; Editing by Nick Macfie)