Victoria's harsh mask rules for kids draws critics

Premier Dan Andrews under continued pressure from parents and politicians over vaccination rates and tough rules for primary school children

Victoria's harsh mask rules for kids draws critics
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews
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Masking children in schools has always been a heated topic and point of conflict between parents, teachers and medical professionals.

The younger the child, the more resistance there has been to mask mandates.

Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has maintained since 2020 that children aged under 6 should not wear masks, and children 6-11 should not wear masks at school except in special circumstances.

The WHO guidelines resist enforcing mask-wearing on young children due to lingering concerns about impacting the learning, psychological, and emotional welfare during their formative years – not to mention the practicality of keeping children masked.

Contrary to mask policies in many Australian states for school children, the WHO insists that masks should only be worn by young children in locations of ‘widespread transmission where they live’ or if it is safe and appropriate for a child to wear a mask.

Victorian State Premier Daniel Andrews continues to insist that young children wear masks because, as a group, they have a lower level of vaccination than teenagers.
Young children are medically acknowledged to be the most resilient to all strains of Covid, with only a handful of deaths recorded among already very ill children. Most children that contract Covid do so without symptoms.

Parents have raised the obvious question. Why mask young children in schools to protect adults against Covid, when those adults are required to be fully vaccinated? A question that is usually followed by another one. Why use vaccination as a measure to control mask-wearing when vaccination does not, in any meaningful way, impact transmission?

Not everyone agrees with the WHO’s relaxed advice related to children and masks. Former WHO epidemiologist Adrian Esterman, currently at the University of South Australia, has said, “I wouldn’t worry too much about kids wearing masks if it means protecting vulnerable people. I would be a lot happier about removing face masks if we had a fourth dose given to vulnerable people, and much happier if we had a higher proportion of kids vaccinated.”

Daniel Andrews is fighting Covid battles on two fronts, finding himself in an argument with Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt about mass vaccination programs in schools. The pair appear to be locked in an arms race about who can vaccinate children the fastest.

Greg Hunt has expressed his desire for school vaccination program to get kids out of Victoria’s mask-wearing rules. “If this [Victoria’s mask rules in schools] is about vaccination rates, which I say are some of the highest in the world, then the best way to turbocharge those school-based vaccination rates is with a school-based program. They know how to do it, they’re good at it, and they have additional capacity now that the pressure has come off in state clinics.”

Frankly, Victorians don’t take orders from Greg Hunt,” said Daniel Andrews, in an extraordinary outburst, “a bloke who forgot to place an order for vaccines.”

Australia has one of the highest purchase rates of vaccine doses per person, well in excess of four doses. If anything, Australia’s Federal Government has created an oversupply of Covid vaccines, unless Greg Hunt expects citizens to have in excess of six doses.

We are out there doing the Commonwealth government’s work for them, the least they can do is not be lecturing us on how to get that job done,” continued Daniel Andrews, insisting that Victoria had a bespoke plan to vaccinate school children. “We’ve got arrangements in schools, we’ve run vax hubs and pop-ups in schools. I got a WhatsApp message from the Prime Minister like the day after I made those announcements saying it was one of the best things he’s ever heard, it was terrific, ‘well done, well done’.”

While various members of the medical community support a rapid drive for vaccination in schools – parents are not so thrilled, with many questioning the need to vaccinate and mask kids as the pandemic winds down across the world.

Victoria’s unions – particularly the Australian Education Union – have come down heavily in favour of the harshest Covid restrictions on children, with the Victorian branch president Meredith Peace saying that, “We encourage the state government to continue rolling out in-school vaccination pop-ups and sharing strong public health messages encouraging parents to get their children immunised against Covid.”

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley agreed that the vaccination rates for children aged 5-11 would have to significantly increase before Victoria would consider dropping mask mandates. He complained that young children, at 45% vaccinated, had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

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  • By Avi Yemini

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