Updated 1.40pm with Repubblika's reaction

A health consultant responsible for the co-ordination of the public health response to COVID-19 has been "removed", the Medical Association of Malta claimed on Monday.

The association claimed in a statement that the consultant “had the courage to recommend caution on the consequences re-opening for the schools.”

Students will today head back to school after a two-day teachers' strike was called off on Friday when the government reached an agreement with the Malta Union of Teachers and representatives of Church and independent schools. 

The teachers' strike on Thursday and Friday followed a decision by Church and independent schools to shift learning online amid a sudden spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases. The MUT subsequently called on the government to do the same with state schools, saying all teachers should be treated equally and all educators were equally at risk. 

On Monday MAM said it will convene to evaluate the situation and decide its reaction to the "episode of intimidation" that led to the dismissal of the public health consultant.

'Only people out of their senses would consider issuing vouchers'

It expressed its disappointment "that the same reckless mistakes due to decisions taken by politicians based on short-sighted populism rather than the advice of medical experts have led to the current situation. 

"A mass event for the elderly in San Ġwann, a music concert held in Valletta, free for all new year’s eve events in many restaurants, and many private parties in Gozo, together with repeated mixed messages from the government side have caused numbers to shoot up from 50 a day to 200 a day in a couple of weeks," it said, adding that regular flights to the UK remained operational despite claims to be contrary.

MAM claimed that a number of positive cases are arriving from the UK. 

The doctors urged the government to continue supporting the tourist industry financially rather than encouraging behaviour that put people’s lives at risk, and further damage the industry.

"Only people out of their senses would consider issuing vouchers at this stage. A classic case of “biting your nose to spite your face.

"MAM reminds the government that with numbers above 100 a day, there is a strong risk that Mater Dei's intensive care unit and medical wards may not be able to cope with patients. Measures are necessary to bring down the numbers. Too many elderly people have died, and every effort must be made to save lives."

Health professionals should be allowed to work without intrusion - MUT

The Malta Union of Teachers joined MAM in expressing concern over the consultant's removal.

"MUT expresses solidarity with the consultant, MAM and all health professionals. MUT condemns their removal. All professionals are duty-bound to provide scientific advice about their own specialisation and this should never lead to their removal."

The teachers called on the government to "revise its position and allow all professionals, including, and especially those within the health sector", to work without intrusion.

They should be the ones who guide decisions about the necessary measures to curb the pandemic, the union said.

UPE expresses solidarity, says it has not endorsed 'backdoor deal'

In a separate statement, the Union of Professional Educators - Voice of The Workers, said the government "should not interfere with the advice given by medical professionals, as such interference could potentially cause COVID positive cases to spike unnecessarily. 

The union expressed solidarity with MAM. 

UPE meanwhile noted that it has not yet endorsed the "backdoor deal" reached last Friday between MUT and the government since it has not been provided with any details.  

Repubblika calls for clarification

Civil rights NGO Repubblika called on the government to clarify the issue with the public.

It joined the doctors' and teachers' unions in expressing "shock" at the removal of the consultant.

The action demoralised and passed on the wrong message to medical professionals, Repubblika said, calling for an immediate explanation.  

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