Schools and parents are struggling to keep up with the new quarantine and contact tracing rules, with teachers saying that the situation is “completely out of control”.
Since the new rules came into force in early January, Times of Malta has received several complaints from parents and teachers who are struggling to keep up with the changes, especially when there are positive cases in a classroom.
People who test positive for COVID-19 no longer receive a separate notice about their quarantine period, which is now worked out depending on the vaccination status of the infected person.
People must now calculate their own quarantine period, meaning they will not be given a date when they can stop isolating by the health authorities, as had been the case since the start of the pandemic.
When contacted about the situation, teachers’ union head Marco Bonnici confirmed the education sector is struggling to cope with the change and educators and parents have a “serious problem” on their hands.
He described the situation as a “free for all”.
“You have people who should be in quarantine but who send their children to school, saying that they should not be isolating. However, this is not the case.
“The schools act whenever they come across such cases but they simply do not have the means to prove a child’s quarantine status,” Bonnici said.
He said the schools were getting different information on a daily basis, depending on whom they speak to when reaching out to the health authorities.
“One day they tell us to put a whole class in quarantine, the next it’s a few children... it changes daily,” Bonnici said.
“The situation is completely out of control and it is not just the educators who are struggling but parents and students too,” he added.
The union head said that calls to the health authorities to address the situation have fallen on deaf ears. There was no clear direction, he said, which meant “things are all over the place”.
The education sector is not the only one that has been negatively hit by the new rules.
This month, the Forum grouping of trade unions and the nurses’ union, MUMN, wrote to Health Minister Chris Fearne, seeking clarity about the new COVID quarantine rules, especially those affecting parents with young unvaccinated children.
Business lobbyists have also stressed they need to be given the right to ask workers for vaccine certificates to make the new rules workable.
A health ministry spokesperson said that contact tracing guidelines are “evidence-based and depend on the symptomatology of the positive case, cumulative time spent with the positive case, distance maintained and face mask wearing”.
“Contacts in a classroom are based on distance, mask wearing, duration of exposure and the number of positive cases in a room,” the ministry spokesperson said.
Vaccinated primary contacts who test negative on day seven can exit quarantine, the spokesperson clarified.
“The purpose of mask use is to minimise risk of transmission but its use is also considered in the assessment of close contacts,” she said.
“Schools must all follow the direction from the COVID-19 Response Team (Contact Tracing Team).
“Liaison officers in schools have been trained to make the assessment and who, on the advice of the public health contact tracing team, communicate with parents of children regarding quarantine.”
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