[WATCH] Coronavirus: Fines for people gathering in groups of more than three

The police will be empowered to fine people who gather in groups of more than three in public places as restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus are stepped up

Police patrolling the Sliema front: officers will now be empowered to fine people €100 each if they gather in groups of more than three
Police patrolling the Sliema front: officers will now be empowered to fine people €100 each if they gather in groups of more than three

People will not be able to gather in groups of more than three in public places and the police will be empowered to issue fines of €100 per person in the group, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri has announced.

The measure will not apply to bus stops and queues but social distancing rules of a minimum two metres will apply. Family members living in the same household who gather outside will not incur a fine, even if they are more than three people.

The measure was necessitated after people on Sunday ignored public health warnings not to aggregate in public. Camilleri said the police horse section will also deploy in rural areas where people go for picnics.

Wifi service in public places will also be limited to avoid people gathering on benches to access the free service.

The measures were agreed on Monday morning by Cabinet. Camilleri said the fine could increase if people kept disregarding the rules.

"The absolute majority of people are obeying public health warnings and recommendations. But I was angry with the people who decided to go out on Sunday, disregarding the orders given by the Public Health Superintendent. We cannot allow the irresponsible few to upset the good that has been achieved so far," Camilleri said.

He said the number of police officers on the beat has increased and will continue to increase to be able to enforce the new stricter measures.

Police will also be distributing information leaflets in different languages to reach out to foreigners.

Asked whether the army would be called in to bolster police efforts, Camilleri said the police force could cope with the additional workload but did not exclude anything.

"Getting the army on the streets to help the police is a measure of last resort. The army is already helping in the distribution of food to people who cannot leave their house. But I will not exclude anything if the need arises," he said.

The minister expressed his hope that people would listen to the appeals to remain inside.

The new rules come ahead of Freedom Day, a public holiday, celebrated tomorrow. Public health officials were concerned that being a public holiday, people would opt to go for picnics or gather in public places like happened on Sunday.

Malta has so far registered 156 cases of coronavirus. The daily rate of infections has been encouraging but public health officials are warning that vigilence must be maintained so as not to cause a sudden spike of cases.

Restrictive measures have been introduced to limit contagion, including the closure of certain businesses.

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