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Malta tightens COVID-19 restrictions, makes wearing masks mandatory

A woman wearing a protective mask looks on while holding a dog during a vigil held in support of carers and the elderly, after a sharp rise in contagion and deaths due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) among the elderly, on the grounds of the Mater Dei Hospital, Tal-Qroqq, Malta September 26, 2020. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/Files

VALLETTA (Reuters) - Malta is making the wearing of face masks mandatory in public and ordering clubs, bars and places of entertainment to close at 11 p.m. to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Friday.

“Health was and will remain a priority, but life has to go on,” Abela told a press conference on the day the Mediterranean island recorded a daily record 122 new cases among its population of 500,000.

“This is a crucial time to fight COVID-19 and protect the economy and jobs,” he said, adding that measures to help businesses will be announced on Monday when the national Budget is presented.

Abela said the limit of 10 people who may meet in groups is being maintained, but everyone now has to wear a mask unless they are at home or in their car. People may remove their masks when seated in restaurants.

The 11 p.m. closing time for bars and clubs will come into force on Monday.

Health Minister Chris Fearne said rapid testing for COVID-19 will also be rolled out for airport arrivals and at schools and clinics where cases of the virus are suspected.

Malta on Friday stopped passengers disembarking from the MSC Grandiosa cruise ship over a suspected case of COVID-19.

Reporting by Christopher Scicluna; Editing by Toby Chopra