Malta closes all non-essential shops, services, as coronavirus cases rise

VALLETTA, March 22 (Reuters) - Malta is closing all non-essential shops and services to stop the spread of coronavirus, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Sunday, with the Mediterranean island following the lead of many other European Union states.

“All shops except those selling essential items such as food, medical services and pet shops will close from 8.00 am on Monday,” Fearne told reporters as the number of confirmed virus cases in the country rose to 90.

A total 17 cases were reported between Saturday and Sunday, the highest yet seen over a 24-hour period in Malta. The island has not reported any deaths from the virus, but one man is in intensive care.

Fearne said all public gatherings, of whatever nature, were also being banned. That follows a ban on large public gatherings issued shortly after the first case was detected on March 7.

Malta has so far closed all schools, restaurants, bars and gyms and stopped court sittings. All overseas travel has been banned. Thousands of people are working from home but factories have not been closed. (Reporting by Christopher Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer)