Face Masks: Post-primary Schools

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 26th April 2021.

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Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP 2:30 pm, 26th April 2021

T4. Mr Givan asked the Minister of Health, in light of the very impressive reduction in transmission and hospitalisation rates, when the guidance from the Chief Medical Officer and the Department of Health on the wearing of face masks in post-primary education settings will be changed, which is something about which he has spoken to the Minister of Education and the Children’s Commissioner, and he and others have received complaints from parents whose children are experiencing headaches and exhaustion as a result of wearing the masks for six hours a day, five days a week. (AQT 1224/17-22)

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member for his question. The introduction of face coverings in post-primary school settings was done at the request of the Education Minister as a step to allowing their reopening. I am sure that, if he puts forward a request for that to be considered with regard to updated medical advice and guidance, the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser will do that.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

That is interesting. That is not what is coming back in response to written questions, which is that it is based on advice from the CMO and the Department of Health. I would welcome some clarity between the two Departments. There is certainly a concern about children as young as 12 and 13 being required to wear face masks for a protracted period of time. Everyone accepts that it is more than challenging to do that in a school environment.

Will the Minister also clarify why affiliated sports clubs are able to put on five-a-side football, for example, but an unaffiliated group of players is not allowed to play five-a-side football?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member. With regard to his initial point about differentials in where responsibility lies, one thing that I have found in the past 14 months is that, if any Minister is queried about regulations, it usually ends up being my fault or turned round so that it is on the basis of guidance from my Department, the Chief Medical Officer or the Chief Scientific Adviser. I am not surprised that the Member has had that response. We will certainly follow up on it.

The process of easing restrictions and regulations is now being handled by the Executive's COVID task force, and the steps that we will utilise are set out in the Executive's COVID task force pathway. If I remember correctly, there is a step under sport. It is the one of the natural steps that we take, because affiliated organisations have the ability to manage and control the necessary requirements for sporting activities in order to allow the restrictions to be relaxed. Given our vaccination uptake and the low number of hospital and ICU admissions, it is my hope that we get to a point very soon at which we can move quickly and steadily along the pathway of allowing us to return to as much normality in Northern Ireland as is possible.