Masks should be mandatory for secondary students, says former HSE chief

Updated 12:45pm. Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke.

Former HSE chief Tony O’Brien has said there is a clear-cut case for face masks to be mandatory for secondary school students when schools reopen.

The Department of Education is “dithering” on the issue, he told Newstalk Breakfast.

Mr O'Brien said he believes masks in secondary schools will become necessary “very quickly” if the mandatory rule is not introduced ahead of the reopening of schools.

Many of those students are going to have vulnerable other members of their families at home, some of the teachers might have vulnerabilities, some of the students will have vulnerabilities.

“It's going to be a slightly odd situation where they're going to have to wear masks to travel to school on public transport, then when they're in situations which are likely to be equally crowded they will not be required to wear them.

“Many of those students are going to have vulnerable other members of their families at home, some of the teachers might have vulnerabilities, some of the students will have vulnerabilities."

Mr O'Brien said there were important exceptions for people who could not wear masks and he warned that outbreaks in schools would mean serious consequences for students who had already lost months of education.

Mandatory

It comes as public health officials are considering whether face masks should be mandatory in secondary schools.

The current advice from NPHET is that face coverings are not required in school settings.

Masks are already mandatory on public transport, with the measure being extended to shops and shopping centres from Monday.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly says NPHET are awaiting a report from the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) on the matter: "There is emerging evidence that younger children are far less contagious and far less susceptible than older children. So NPHET is waiting to what the ECDC says.

"They may come back and recommend that in secondary schools for example or over a particular age group that face masks should be worn."

Younger people

It comes as younger people are to be targeted with specific Covid-19 messages by the Government.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has recommended more communication with younger people about the virus, due to the number of recent cases in people under 45 years old.

The chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn says more needs to be done to get the message across to young people:

"No age group is immune from this virus and NPHET has recommended that more is done to reach out and communicate with young people.

This is not about blame, we will all slip up on occasion but the priority now must be on continuing to encourage each other to build on and sustain the great efforts we have all made to date.

The deputy director of Spunout.ie added that the message to young people from government should not be a blame game.

"We've all made mistakes so far and we are all learning how we can live safely with the virus. It's best if we try and encourage everyone around us and find ways of coping and managing that are positive and that we can work towards together.

"This is all still really new and we are all still learning how we can best live with this virus."