Hiqa recommends no change to current minimum age for face coverings

Currently face coverings are not recommended for children under the age of 13
Hiqa recommends no change to current minimum age for face coverings

Hiqa said that advice around face coverings will be updated and reviewed as new evidence becomes available. File picture

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has advised that there should be no change to the current minimum age of mask-wearing.

Currently face coverings are not recommended for children under the age of 13.

With the phased reopening of schools, there have been calls from some quarters for children to wear face coverings in class. The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) said it favours mask wearing for primary school children. Currently, all secondary school students must wear a face mask while at school.

Hiqa said that there has also been uncertainty regarding the impact of the increased transmissibility of the B.1.1.7 variant (the UK variant of the virus) and whether existing measures will be sufficient.

In new advice to National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), Hiqa said it was informed by the latest international practice as well as input from its Covid-19 Expert Advisory Group.

In a statement, the health authority said: “The evidence points towards face mask use in the community reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

“However, in young children, the benefit of face mask use is likely small and may be affected by their reduced ability to comply with face mask-wearing.

“Any decision to require or recommend face mask use in children must be balanced against perceived disadvantages associated with their use, for example, potential effects on communication.” 

Hiqa noted that measures previously employed in schools have successfully mitigated the spread of Covid-19.

“It is important that schools remain open to support children’s educational, social, and emotional development,” said Dr Máirín Ryan, HIQA’s Deputy CEO and Director of Health Technology Assessment.

“The best way to ensure that schools remain a low-risk environment is by the continued use of a combination of public health measures, such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, increased ventilation and by not attending when you have symptoms of Covid-19.” 

Dr Ryan added that these measures should also be adhered to when students are moving between classrooms, on school grounds and when travelling to and from school.

“We recommended that a clear communications strategy on methods to reduce transmission be deployed to help students, families and teachers stay safe.” 

Hiqa said that advice around face coverings will be updated and reviewed as new evidence becomes available.

More in this section