The Government, at its meeting on 30 November, agreed that face masks/coverings be recommended for those aged 9 and over on public transport, in retail and other indoor public settings as currently required for those aged 13 and over, with exemptions as appropriate. Face masks/coverings are also recommended for children in third class and above in primary school and guidance has issued to schools from the Department of Education on this. This guidance can be found online: www.gov.ie/en/publication/d3c55-department-of-education-guidance-on-the-use-of-face-coverings-in-primary-schools/.
It should be noted that this is a temporary, interim measure and will be reviewed in mid-February 2022. The continued importance of other public health measures will continue to be emphasised.
The Government decision is based on a recommendation from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The NPHET, at its meeting on 25 November, considered the question of reducing the age at which mask wearing is recommended. This issue has been subject to ongoing review by the NPHET. NPHET consideration has been informed by a number of evidence reviews and advice provided to NPHET by HIQA at NPHET’s request since February 2021, informed by research evidence developed by HIQA’s COVID-19 Evidence Synthesis Team and with expert input from HIQA’s COVID-19 Expert Advisory Group (EAG).
The most recent review by HIQA in August 2021 recommended that the minimum age for mask wearing should remain unchanged, however ongoing monitoring was advised with respect to the epidemiological situation in children.
In light of the sharp rise in the incidence in the 9 to 11 year old age-group in recent weeks the issue was therefore considered again by the NPHET. As part of its deliberations, the NPHET considered previous advice from HIQA, the detailed epidemiological situation in children, international guidance, international practice, the evidence in relation to the use of face coverings in children, and the potential benefits and harms from any recommendations. The NPHET recognised the very significant impacts previous social and economic restrictions have had on families and children to date and also reiterated that a core priority of the NPHET throughout the pandemic has been to protect the continued operation of the education and childcare sector, recognising its importance to the health and development of children. Given the very high incidence in children the NPHET advised that measures should be taken to interrupt chains of transmission to protect those core priorities. For that reason, the NPHET agreed advice, including the recommendation in relation to mask wearing, to support families and young children in staying safe over the coming period with a view to reducing risk of disease transmission.
HIQA’s advice on ‘Reducing the minimum age for mask wearing requirements and recommendations in COVID-19’ can be found online: www.hiqa.ie/reports-and-publications/health-technology-assessment/reducing-minimum-age-mask-wearing.