Updated 4.50pm with Opposition statement 

The Malta Union of Teachers and the Union of Professional Educators in separate statements on Wednesday urged the government to keep schools closed because of the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.

The calls came shortly after health authorities confirmed a record 106 new cases in 24 hours. 

MUT president Marco Bonnici said schools should not reopen for the time being because of the spike in virus numbers and because the education sector had not been prepared to deal with it.

Schooling should be held online until issues are fixed and the situation improves, he told a press conference.

The union is due to have a meeting with education officials later on Wednesday.

Bonnici observed that an online system is already in place although it needs to be improved to better adapt it for current circumstances.

Talks will be continued with all stakeholders, Bonnici said, but the reopening required far more intensive discussion and preparation.

The key issue is how the pandemic is affecting society at large. The union feared that the situation is worsening and the virus reproduction rate is shooting up, he said.

The protocols announced so far had come far too late, he said, and some points had raised many questions, such as how distancing would be observed.  

In many cases, he said, the authorities have been out of touch with reality on the ground. 

"The reality is that there is no peace of mind from these guidelines and the reopening of schools should therefore be postponed. 

He said that for schools to take back students, they should be certified compliant to COVID-19 measures. Although the government had offered to conduct risk assessments, the union insisted this was not enough.

Bonnici said there was a lack of preparation on all fronts and in all sectors of education. Ma with many schools scrambling to finish up.

Earlier, the Union of Professional Educators said the government should consider the closure of schools in view of a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.

"The situation is unsustainable and with the opening of schools on the 28th of September 2020, the number of cases will defiantly (sic) increase to unsustainable numbers thus putting a burden on our health care system," the union said. 

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"The Union is therefore requesting officially the Prime Minister to consider the closure of physical attendance in schools, and to revert to online lessons as proposed by the UPE last August." 

The union said it reserved the right to order industrial action if its request is denied within the coming days. 

Schools have been closed since March after the first COVID-19 cases were reported. Times of Malta reported on Wednesday that the daily tally of new cases has, for the first time, exceeded 100.  

Government unprepared - Opposition

In a statement later, the Nationalist Party said that with the reopening of schools only a few days away and six months after the start of the pandemic, the government has been caught unprepared.

It lacked a Plan A to provide education in schools and was not well prepared with Plan B to offer decent education remotely.

Children’s education and the health and safety of their educators should be an absolute priority. Children did not afford to miss more education because of the government’s incompetence and lack of preparation.

The lack of control in the spread of the pandemic in recent weeks, particularly the numbers reached on Wednesday together with the lack of adequate and timely intervention by the Education Ministry, was of concern to parents and educators’ unions.

Together with the unions, the Opposition had also been appealing for plans to cater for the different scenarios for months, it said.

Six months after the start of the pandemic, the government no longer had the excuse it had in March, the Opposition said.

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