Updated 2.30pm, adds PN statement

The health authorities have advised the Education Ministry not to reopen schools in view of an expected surge of COVID-19 cases, the Malta Union of Teachers said on Wednesday.

It said it had learned of the advice by the health authorities through multiple sources but said the Education Ministry was ignoring it.

It warned that unless the advice is heeded, it will take it upon itself to protect teachers and pupils and issue directives later on Wednesday.  

Government schools are due to reopen on Thursday after the Christmas holidays, but COVID-19 cases have been increasing over the past few days, reaching a record 224 on Wednesday.

The opening of schools in October, after the summer holidays had been delayed while new protocols were put in place to protect pupils and teachers in 'bubbles'.

Earlier this week the MUT said it was holding talks with the government over the current situation and was keeping a close eye on the number of new virus cases. 

In a statement issued to Times of Malta on Tuesday night and before the record number of new cases was announced, the education ministry said state schools would "reopen as per scholastic calendar on Thursday".

Is insisted it had taken "all necessary measures" according to guidelines issued by the health authorities, which had previously led to the reopening of schools in October. 

"While appealing for responsibility from those who feel any symptoms and hence should not attend school and get tested, the ministry for education will continue to follow all directions, guidance and advice by the health authorities," it said.

No major clusters in schools - Charmaine Gauci

The superintendent of public health, Charmaine Gauci, said while speaking at a press conference later that there had so far been no major virus clusters in schools.

Asked if the authorities had advised that schools should not reopen, Gauci said that over the past week there was an increase in the number of children infected by the virus. The education ministry had been alerted so that mitigation measures could be enforced more strictly, including the use of masks and distancing between desks. 

It was also important that any pupils who were sick were not taken to schools.

Health Minister Chris Fearne said public health is a government priority. After health, the next priority was education. 

Meanwhile, in a statement, the Nationalist Party appealed for cautiousness and responsibility as it called for a transparent and honest dialogue for solutions which safeguarded students, educators and parents to be found.

Arrogance and hard-headedness, it said, were not the way forward.

The party said the Education Ministry should take all the necessary actions to ensure that the health of children and educators is not endangered capriciously as a result of new circumstances and government inaction.



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