Health Protection Agency (HPA) has come under fire for granting "special permission" so that an Indian football team, could travel to Maldives.
To compete in the cup qualification match for Asian Football Confederation (AFC), a team from Bengaluru FC arrived in Maldives on Friday. They were brought under special conditions, including not being allowed to leave their hotel unless it was for training or for the match.
However, members of Bengaluru FC broke protocol on Saturday and were photographed on Male' roads, causing outrage.
Criticism was targeted at HPA for allowing the team to travel, particularly at a time when stricter measures were being implemented to tackle the soaring numbers in Maldives.
Senior Consultant in Neurosurgery and President of Maldivian Medical Association Dr Ali Niyaf branded HPA's decision to grant the team permission a "bad move".
"No excuse here! Mistake after mistake. Allowing an Indian football club to cross borders and mingle in Male'," he said via Twitter on Sunday.
He further called HPA to stop giving out special permissions.
"Does that even make sense," he had said, tagging Minister for Sports and Community Development Ahmed Mahloof, Spokesperson to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and the President's Office's twitter handles.
As COVID is spreading faster within Maldives and India, several restrictive measures have been placed. Private and government offices, in addition to schools and colleges, have moved to work from home and online schooling.
Indian travelers have temporarily been restricted from arriving in Maldives.
Therefore, the break of protocol has lead to heavy criticism of HPA from health workers and the public alike.
Minister Mahloof said that he has informed Football Association of Maldives (FAM) that the qualifying match can no longer go on as planned previously, since Bengaluru FC broke the COVID-19 protocol.
He said he had requested FAM to make the correct arrangements so that Bengaluru FC can leave Maldives.
"We will be in further correspondence with AFC through FAM to postpone the group stage," he said.
Mahloof called Bengaluru FC's behaviour unacceptable.
"We honoured the commitment we gave a few months back even with surge in cases and and pressure from the public," Mahloof stated.
In an interview given to Goal.com by Bengaluru FC, the club has stated they are unaware that some members broke protocol and left the hotel.
Meanwhile, owner of the club Parth Jindal issued an apology for the team's action. He reassured that the strictest action will be taken against the team members.
Jindal also stated that they have "let the AFC Cup down" and the only thing he could say is that this will never happen again.
Following this, the group stage matches of AFC Cup to be held in Maldives on May 14 to 21 have been postponed without any dates.
As per AFC, further information regarding this decision will be disclosed later on.
Moreover, they asked for arrangements to be made for teams to depart from Maldives, and instructed all to follow COVID-19 protocols.
Only the team from Bengaluru arrived in Maldives prior to the cancellations.
Maldives is currently facing the worst wave of COVID cases since community spread started in April 2020. This month so far, over 3,000 people have tested positive for COVID. In contrast, from April to the end of December 2020, the number of confirmed COVID cases in Maldives were 13,757.
Currently, the confirmed cases have reached 34,724.