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What are face mask requirements for primary school children in other European countries?

Nine to 12 year-olds are now required to wear face masks in Ireland.

Image: Shutterstock/StanislavSukhin

THE INTRODUCTION OF a requirement for children aged between nine and 12 to wear face masks in some indoor settings led to a vocal backlash by some parents this week.

The move came into effect on Wednesday, following a recommendation by NPHET last week in response to high incidence of Covid-19 among five to 12 year-olds.

Children under the age of 13 had previously been exempt from mask requirements, but those aged nine and older now have to wear masks in schools, shops and public transport, subject to a review in mid-February.

However, the measure has been a feature of the pandemic in a number of other European countries and Ireland has been relatively late in adopting it compared to some of our nearest neighbours.

France brought in a requirement in July 2020 for children aged 11 and up to wear face masks, briefly ending the measure in September as part of a wider loosening of restrictions before requiring all primary schoolchildren to wear them from last month.

A significant rise in Covid-19 cases led to a range of new measures to tackle the virus, and under a new protocol, primary school pupils have to wear masks when the incidence rate in their region reaches 50 new infections per 100,000 people over five consecutive days.

In secondary schools, masks remain compulsory regardless of the number of Covid cases.

Spain has similarly required children over the age of six to wear face masks since September 2020, even though the use of masks has not been a legal obligation in parts of wider society since June of this year.

And the same requirement is in place in Italy, where a mask requirement for everyone over the age of six has been in place since last year and everyone is required to wear a face mask indoors at school, unless the whole class has been fully vaccinated.

Greece has required children from pre-school age and up to wear masks since September 2020, and those who don’t do so on school grounds are not allowed to attend class.

In Luxembourg, children aged six and older are required to wear a mask indoors in school, unless they are seated at their desk, as well as on public transport.

New rules introduced last month in Belgium require primary school students aged 10 and up to wear masks to school in Flanders, although those in Wallonia do not have to do so.

Conversely, secondary school pupils in Flanders are allowed go to class without wearing a mask because of high vaccination rates among 12-18 year-olds, but Wallonian high school students do have to wear masks.

Guidelines are more mixed in Germany, a federal country where individual states can decide their own rules.

Pupils across the country have had to wear masks at various stages of the pandemic, though guidelines vary from state to state.

Masks are currently required for younger classes in Berlin up to sixth grade (age 12), a rule which was recently re-introduced after a mask mandate was lifted in October.

However, Brandenburg, Saarland and Bavaria recently lifted their mask mandates and they have not been re-introduced.

Finland requires children in grade six (also age 12) and above to wear masks, but those who are younger are exempt.

In other European countries, masks are required for secondary pupils only or not at all.

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In the Netherlandsface masks are mandatory in corridors and canteens – but not during lessons – in secondary school, while there is no mask rule for primary school children.

Children under the age of 12 in Denmark are likewise not required to wear a face mask at all, while in Sweden there is no mandate for mask-wearing for pupils or teachers at any age.

Despite the new mask requirement for primary school children in Ireland, the Taoiseach said on Wednesday that it is not a rule he is “entirely 100% comfortable with”.

NPHET also defended its guidance on the issue after a backlash from parents, insisting that its proposal is in line with advice from the State’s health watchdog Hiqa.

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