The way the health department monitors and manages the Covid-19 pandemic changed after the Health Minister Joe Phaahla has repealed Regulations which set out the guidelines for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. The removal of regulation 16A means that masks are no longer a requirement.
The minister of health explained that the decision around the removal of several Covid-19 management regulations was made due to declining rates of infections, hospitalisations and death.
The DBE has aligned itself with the announcement made by the health department.
“In line with this decision to repeal the regulations, wearing of face masks by learners in classrooms and indoor gatherings is no longer a requirement. Those learners and staff who wish to continue to wear a face mask in schools will be allowed to exercise this option” explained the DBE.
South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) spokesperson Nomusa Cembi says the removal of the face mask mandate is concerning for the union. This is because the removal of the masks puts teachers and learners at risk of contracting the virus.
Winter months are usually associated with higher rates of illness and infection and due to the proximity of learners in schools, masks could increase infections.
Cembi said, “As Sadtu, we are aware that our schools are overcrowded and we are still confronted with the issue of social distancing, which is not observed. So, if they now say they are going to remove the wearing of masks, we are worried that this may put learners and teachers at an added risk.”
She adds that masks are sometimes the only defense against infection due to the number of overcrowded classrooms in South Africa and the lack of adequate ventilation in some schools.