Recently, the Health Minister recommended for mask wearing to come to an end, following a drop in Covid-19 infections. However, a teachers union has weighed in on what this could mean for schools.
Health Minister, Joe Phaahla published a notice in the Government Gazette, which recommends Covid-19 regulations be removed. This comes after a decline in Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations. This recommendation was then approved by the Cabinet.
With this comes the removal of restrictions including that of needing to wear a mask indoors and on public transport.
Some science and economic experts have been of the opinion that masks ought to be dropped. South African researcher, Shabir Madhi has welcomed this call and proposed that the focus should be on fixing the collateral economic and other damage that occured as a result of previous Covid-19 regulations.
While the Department of Basic Education (DBE) supports the repealing of mask-wearing for learners, DBE Minister Angie Motshekga had this to say about mask-wearing in schools:
Those learners and staff who wish to continue to wear a face mask in schools will be allowed to exercise this option.
However, a teachers union has expressed concern, as this may put learners and teachers at an added risk.
In an interview, South African Democratic Union (Sadtu) spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said:
We are aware that our schools are overcrowded and we are still confronted with the issue of social distancing, which is not observed.
Basic Education has initiatives underway that will build more schools and increase classrooms in some schools to meet the high enrolment demand and put an end to overcrowded classrooms in its schools.
Cembi added that removing masks during winter could potentially lead to a surge in Covid-19 cases, as it is during winter that there are higher rates of illness, such as colds and flu.
In June 2020, researchers conducted a study in 44 countries that wore masks and those that didn’t wear masks. Data revealed that countries that implemented face mask mandates in 2020 had lower Covid-19 death rates compared to countries that did not.
The notice did not only make recommendations related to mask-wearing but also touched on other regulations related to gatherings, and international travelers entering South Africa.