Pupils must still wear a face mask at school, says Department of Health

Durban primary school pupil Kirsten Koopman puts on her face mask as she heads out to school. Picture: Se-Anne Rall

Durban primary school pupil Kirsten Koopman puts on her face mask as she heads out to school. Picture: Se-Anne Rall

Published May 5, 2022


Durban - The Department of Health has been left with egg on its face, after it was forced to clarify an earlier press release, stating that children did not have to wear masks at school.

On Thursday, the department issued a statement explaining the gaffe, blaming “human error”.

“The Department of Health has been receiving a lot of feedback from the public since announcing the extension of public consultation process together with the introduction of limited health regulations meant to manage the spread of COVID-19 pandemic and future notifiable medical conditions,” the statement began.

“We would like to urge all South Africans to continue to share their feedback because we believe it will assist the process as we move forward to finalise the regulations.

“The Department would also like to bring to the public attention of the confusion created by unfortunate and regrettable human error in the media statement issued yesterday about the removal of face mask wearing by children at school. This is not part of the gazetted health regulations, and is therefore retracted to avoid any misunderstanding of the regulations.

“Therefore, children like other people are expected to continue complying with the provisions of Regulation 16A on face masks in the classrooms and general indoor gatherings, unlike outdoors in playgrounds and sports fields,” the statement read.

It added that face masks are an effective non-pharmaceutical intervention against the spread of the Covid-19 virus, and it is more relevant now as the number of Covid-19 positive cases is rising once again.

“Lastly, the department reminds the public that vaccination services against Covid remain available and accessible, and we can mitigate the impact of the anticipated 5th wave and emerging variants,” the department said.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, data collected up to April 30, 2022, shows that the percentage of people testing positive increased in all age groups and was the highest in he 10 to 14 age group.

Meanwhile, according to Dr Harsha Somaroo, public health medicine specialist at the University of the Witwatersrand, the health system should be prepared for a potential increase in admissions.

“The recent increase in the number of new Covid-19 cases that have been diagnosed, and increased viral transmission throughout the country, are significant and warrant early mitigation responses,” she said.

Somaroo said while cases have increased, the country has not yet officially entered the fifth wave.