Discussions around the likely introduction of masks for some primary school children are likely to get under way today.

The National Public Health Emergency Team has recommended the wearing of masks for primary school children from third class upwards until the middle of February.

The proposal was not unexpected and a final decision on the matter will be taken by the Cabinet on Tuesday.

NPHET has also recommended that children aged nine and over wear masks on public transport, in shops and in other public settings where the rule currently applies for those aged 13 and over.

Public health experts are advising that children avoid certain gatherings for at least the next two weeks, including nativity performances and other similar seasonal events.

They are also calling for a pause on indoor birthday parties, sleepovers and play dates.

However, small numbers could meet outdoors.

NPHET has also recommended the extension of the Covid certificate to all settings where there is a high risk of virus transmission.


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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said children are more vulnerable than previously.

"This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, roughly half of the people in hospital at the moment are unvaccinated, and unfortunately children aged between five and 11 cannot be vaccinated yet, so they're now more vulnerable than they would be in the past," he said.

"We have seen a very sharp increase in infections among children under 11 in the last couple of weeks and that's the basis behind the CMO's advice," he added.

He said that it is a decision for parents to make as to what activities they might undertake with their children.

Mr Varadkar said Government will consider the advice from NPHET and will make a decision on or before Tuesday.

He said he expects measures related to children will be advisory rather than statutory.

The Tánaiste said he did not expect the Government to bring in legislation "just to cover a two week period".

This has to be discussed by Cabinet, he said, and it would be wrong for him to preempt that decision.

A Professor of Immunology at Dublin City University said she would not like to see mask wearing for children being mandated.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Professor Christine Loscher said: "I would like to see there is a recommendation and guidance to parents on the benefits of wearing masks. I would not like to see it mandated. I think it is going to be a case-by-case basis for every child and parent."

She said there is "no doubt that mask wearing, and there is a lot of science to back it up, does reduce transmission", but the implementation of mask wearing among children would be a challenge as children may or may not be able to wear masks.

As a parent, she said, you have to weigh up the benefits to a child in the classroom.

The Children's Rights Alliance said some children will find it difficult to wear a face mask in school and it is important that the Government provides "crystal clear advice to schools now, rather than later, to ensure they take account of each child's needs in accessing their right to education".

CEO Tanya Ward said they have heard from members and parents through the helpline that face masks can interfere with a child's well-being, particularly among children who may have learning difficulties or health issues, such as asthma.

An immunovirologist at University College Cork has welcomed the recommendation on mask wearing in primary schools.

Speaking on RTÉ's Prime Time, Professor Liam Fanning said under-12s accounted for nearly 22% of infections in a two week period.

"The prevalence in the community and the prevalence in schools is high enough that it warrants masks as NPHET has indicated," he said.

He said children would need instructions on how to wear face masks, and will need access to fresh masks during the school day.