Lockdown back-track a case of fine-tuning, Chris Fearne says

After PM revises lockdown for over-65s, health minister Chris Fearne says Malta writing rulebook as things change due to unprecedented nature of COVID-19

Deputy PM and health minister Chris Fearne
Deputy PM and health minister Chris Fearne

The lockdown conditions for vulnerable persons and those aged over 65 were revised within the space of a day to ensure they would be sustainable in the long-term, deputy PM and health minister Chris Fearne said today.

Fearne was speaking just 24 hours after government changed its lockdown measures announced earlier this week for over-65s, claiming the scale-back would allow people to adhere to the new conditions for as long as was necessary.

On Thursday, Fearne announced that anyone over 65, together with those suffering from certain chronic conditions, could not leave their homes in order to avoid catching COVID-19. Fearne had said that anyone living under the same roof as the persons in these categories should also not leave their home.

The next day, however, Prime Minister Robert Abela backtracked on part of the measures, saying those living in the same home as over 65s and vulnerable people could leave their home to go to work, do their shopping and carry out other necessities.

Fearne defended the move, saying the coronavirus had presented a situation which nobody has ever dealt with before.

“It may be that we have to fine-tune some measures since we are writing the rulebook for something new,” he said, speaking from the Gozo General Hospital.

He said that although Cabinet had at first agreed on the line of measures announced on Thursday, it had met again the next day and made some changes.

“These changes were done not because we don’t have the required resources or because we could not agree on them, but because when you have measures which affect almost 120,000 people, which are being put in place for the first time ever, and which in some other countries may have not worked... then it is ok that we make changes from day to day to ensure they are more effective and that people will follow them in the longer term,” he said.

With 10 new coronavirus cases confirmed overnight, Fearne also announced that the World Health Organisation had commended Malta as an example of best practices other countries should follow, during a meeting of health ministers.

123 beds at Gozo hospital for COVID-19 patients

In an agreement with GGH managers Steward Health Care and Barts, 123 beds will now be made available to cater for COVID-19 patients in Gozo. Of these, around half are to be prepared within two weeks.

For this purpose, non-urgent operations have been postponed, he said. Moreover, 13 ITU beds with ventilators will be made equipped for those coronavirus patients requiring intensive care.

Steward have agreed with the government for the Barts medical school to be used to train doctors and nurses on COVID-19 treatment and to also offer a service to immuno-compromised patients so that they are not treated in the main Gozo hospital building as those suffering from COVID-19. To date, Fearne said, however, there were no coronavirus cases being treated at Gozo hospital.

Around 80 patients treated in the hopital’s Sant’ Anna wing will be transferred to another facility equipped to take care for the elderly, to isolate them from patients potentially treated for COVID-19.