Malta orders restaurants closed as virus cases surge

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VALLETTA (Reuters) - Malta ordered restaurants and all other catering establishments to close again on Thursday, in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Prime Minister Robert Abela told a press conference that restaurants will be kept closed until April 11. Other workers are being urged to work from home as much as possible.

Schools, shops and establishments such as gyms will remain open but contact sports for children have also been stopped.

"I urge people to act responsibly and follow protocols," Abela said.

The Mediterranean island saw a record 362 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, with authorities blaming the so-called UK variant of the virus for the surge.

The Malta College of Pathologists complained in a statement that Malta has "the highest number of cases per capita in Europe and the fewest restrictions."

The association and medical trade unions had earlier called for more stringent measures, including the closure of non-essential shops.

Restaurants were closed when the initial wave of COVID-19 hit in the first half of 2020 but had since re-opened.

Abela said Malta was leading European Union countries in rolling out vaccines. Thirteen percent of the population has had a first dose, including all medical staff, other front-liners such as army and police and all those over 80.

The opposition Nationalist Party blamed government inaction for the surge in cases and said the new restrictions were "too little, too late".

(Reporting by Christopher Scicluna, editing by Larry King)