Shortly after Rome ordered a nation-wide lockdown and banned public gatherings, the Maltese government decided to suspend all travel to and from Italy.
Prime Minister Robert Abela announced late on Monday night that air and sea travel between Malta and Italy was being halted with immediate effect.
The decision was announced not long after a 49-year-old foreign national who lives in Malta became the fourth coronavirus case to be detected in Malta and Italy imposed a lockdown across the country and ordered that no public gatherings are to be held.
Arrangements to assist Maltese nationals caught in Italy as a result of the travel ban are expected to be announced today, following a Cabinet meeting. A helpline is also being launched.
Dr Abela said no passengers will be carried on the Sicily catamaran service, which, however, will continue handling merchandise, medicine and food so supplies can still reach Malta.
Figures released by the National Statistics Office show that 23,873 Italian tourists visited Malta in January. The big bulk travelled by air.
A cruise liner carrying 2,600 passengers was not allowed to enter the Grand Harbour yesterday.
The Prime Minister insisted that health remains a top priority, adding there is no need for alarm because Malta is well prepared for all eventualities. Dr Abela said work and schools would run as usual.
Asked by members of the press whether the government would consider imposing compulsory quarantine across the island, the Prime Minister replied that no measures would be excluded if the advice being given is not followed.