'We want them to be free': Health Dept drops mask requirement for schoolchildren

Government has announced a three-month extension to the health regulations meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 and the public consultation period.

Pupils at the eThekwini Primary School in KwaMashu, north of Durban on the first day of full-time schooling on 7 February 2022. Picture: Nhlanhla Mabaso/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG - After consultation with the Education Department, the Health ministry said that children would no longer be required to wear masks at school.

Government has announced a three-month extension to the health regulations meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 and the public consultation period.

The newly gazetted regulations come into effect from Thursday, with a focus on the wearing of masks, gatherings and travel.

While explaining the move to drop the requirement for masks in school, the Health Department’s deputy director-general, Doctor Nicholas Crisp, acknowledged the discrepancy between the statement from the department and what had been gazetted regarding mask-wearing for children, adding that it had been brought to his attention on Thursday morning.

"We regard them as a place of learning where we want the children to be as free and able to move as possible. But where there are sick people or people who want to where a mask, that would be encouraged but if they are in the classroom and there's sufficient social distancing, then they will not need to wear a mask on school premises," he explained.

He said that implementing mask-wearing for children has always been difficult.

"It's always been a challenge with small children and even with some older children it's been a bit of a restriction and so the wearing of masks is less of a concern to us in that particular environment," Crisp said.

Meanwhile, Crisp has encouraged South Africans to adhere to these regulations as the country sees an uptick in the number of new COVID-19 infections.

LISTEN: Health Dept's Nicholas Crisp explains latest COVID regulations