[WATCH] COVID-19: Festa marches stopped, venues to have numbers capped

Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne has announced new standards for mass events as Malta experiences a spike in COVID-19 cases

Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne
Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne

Festa marches have been banned and new measures introduced to limit the number of people in mass events but government has stopped short of heeding calls for an outright ban on large activities.

Malta has experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases, primarily linked to a weekend-long party held a fortnight ago and the Santa Venera festa march. The situation got more complicated this week when 85 migrants from two groups that were brought to Malta tested positive.

The new measures were announced by Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne and Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci on Thursday evening. The standards are enforceable on the strength of the Public Health Act.

The measures are:

  • From Friday 31 July, at 8am, the number of people in every venue should be limited to 1 person for every 4sq.m to ensure social distancing
  • Within the venue itself, groups of more than 10 will not be allowed
  • People who attend these events will have to leave a contact number for ease of tracing
  • Organisers will be responsible to ensure these standards are adhered to and risk legal action if they fail to do so
  • Venues that can take more than 100 people will have to carry out a risk assessment prior to going ahead with the event
  • From Friday, all festa marches will be stopped

Fearne insisted that events in which organisers cannot guarantee adherence to the standards will not be allowed to go ahead. He added that inspectors will be ensuring that the standards are adhered to.

He said that Malta's success to control the pandemic in the previous months was the result of adequate social distancing measures, profuse testing and contact tracing, and immediate isolation of positive cases.

“The secrets to our successes have been social distancing and wide spread testing. We intended to keep this up,” he said. 

The new measures were intended to ensure social distancing is maintained. Fearne said the laboratory resources at Mater Dei Hospital will be increased to keep up with the increase in swabbing.

Asked about the ultimatums given by the doctors' and nurses' unions over industrial action unless government bans mass events, Fearne said he will be meeting representatives over the coming days.

However, in an immediate reaction after the measures were announced, the doctors’ union insisted it will still go ahead with industrial action. “The measures are too little, too late,” the union said.

READ ALSO: Doctors unsatisfied with new restrictions on mass events, to go ahead with industrial action

Gauci said most of the new COVID-19 cases were experiencing mild symptoms and seven patients were being kept in hospitals. One person was kept at the Infectious Diseases Unit, four at Boffa Hospital and two at the private St Thomas Hospital.

“Our measures have always been proportionate to the situation we are analysing on a daily basis,” Gauci said.