The requirement for pupils to wear a mask in classrooms in Northern Ireland will end later this month, the education minister for Stormont has announced.
Councils are currently strongly recommending that pupils in post-primary schools wear face coverings in classrooms.
Michelle McIlveen said after reviewing the guidelines she decided that this recommendation would be removed from March 21.
“Their use at this stage will still be recommended in corridors, common areas and on public and school transport, but they will no longer be recommended in classrooms,” she said.
Ms McIlveen said the number of Covid-19 cases among pupils was particularly high in January and much of February.
However, she said the number of cases has shown a sustained decline since their peak and is now less than 30% of the number of cases at the peak.
“This is also supported by pupil absences due to the fact that Covid-19 has now been reduced to levels not seen since before Christmas,” she said.
“I was aware of the need to balance the impact that wearing face coverings in classrooms has had on the transmission of the virus with the challenges that wearing a face covering for long periods of time has posed to our young people and the disruption it has caused to their education.
“Following my review of these guidelines, effective March 21, the recommendation that face coverings be worn by post-primary students in classrooms will be removed from my department guidelines. Their use at this stage will still be recommended in corridors, common areas and on public and school transport, but they will no longer be recommended in classrooms.
Ms McIlveen said the change brings Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland where post-primary pupils are not recommended to wear face coverings in classrooms. class.
“I have been aware of the differences in the number of cases in other jurisdictions and so I have been careful in allowing more time for the number of cases in schools here to decrease further,” she explained.
“While I think we are at the point where the balance of relative risk is now in favor of removing this recommendation from advice, Covid continues to circulate in our communities and in our schools and we should continue to reduce the risks of Covid at our schools through the range of other mitigation measures that remain in place to protect all students and staff.
“It is for this reason that if someone wishes to continue using a face covering in class, I encourage them to do so.”