Parents: Can the Masks Come Off in 2022/23?

As the long summer break comes to a close, families across the UAE are now wondering whether children will return to school this month wearing masks or if the requirement will be dropped. We examine current face-covering requirements in schools internationally, as well as broader requirements and behaviours locally, to assess the likelihood of masks coming off in schools.
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

Following summer holidays overseas, families across the UAE are now wondering whether children will return to school this month wearing masks or if the requirement will be dropped.

As yet, no government announcements have been made regarding changes to requirements however UAE parents have become accustomed to sudden changes in the rules after two and a half years of the pandemic. As the beginning of the new academic year draws close, we examine current face-covering requirements in schools internationally, as well as broader requirements and behaviours locally, to assess the likelihood of masks coming off in schools.

Current Requirements in the UAE:

For private schools in Dubai, the school safety protocol from March 2022 remains in place at present. This means that face masks are compulsory for children in Year 2/Grade 1 and above when indoors. The March 2022 update removed the requirement for masks to be worn outdoors in school grounds. 

Abu Dhabi schools likewise have not received any updated protocol as yet, meaning that the April 2022 updated protocols remain in place at present. This requires children from Year 2/Grade 1 and above to wear a mask at school while indoors.

What are school mask wearing requirements internationally?

Countries that still have requirements in place for children to wear masks in schools are now in the minority, but the UAE is by no means the last to lift this rule. We looked at the current face-covering requirements in schools in a selection of countries across the globe:

Singapore: The wearing of face masks in schools when indoors continues to be a requirement for children aged 6 years +

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Mask requirements in schools were removed in March 2022

Oman: Mask requirements in schools were removed in May 2022

United Kingdom: Masks have not been a requirement in schools in England since January 2022 and in Scotland since February 2022. 

Germany: Mask requirements in schools are decided by each state, however individual states may “only be able to impose a mask requirement at schools if this is necessary in order to be able to continue to provide in-person teaching," -Justice Minister Marco Buschmann.

Australia: The wearing of face masks in schools is “recommended but not required”, with the requirement having been removed in April 2022. 

New Zealand: Mask requirements in schools are based around the country’s Covid-19 traffic light system, whereby requirements can change depending on the risk level communicated by the government. New Zealand is currently in ‘orange’, meaning the wearing of face masks is encouraged indoors, and is not required outdoors. 

Current Mask Wearing Requirements in the UAE

According to the latest communication from NCEMA, the wearing of masks in all public closed spaces remains mandatory. NCEMA shared the following message in a series of tweets on 13th June 2022:

“Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, the national system has been able to monitor the pandemic both locally and globally, and many Covid-19  infections have been detected around the world. We have recently monitored an increase in Covid-19  infections around the country, with cases rising by over 100 percent in one week, and we have also monitored an increase in hospitalisation rates. 
This increase comes after the stabilisation of the epidemiological situation in the country due to supporting national efforts and promoting community cooperation. We recently monitored a number of practices that pose risks to the community and public health, in light of non-adherence to precautionary measures. 
Studies have proven that wearing face masks is one of the most important factors in maintaining health and safety and avoiding the risk of infection with Covid-19 . Masks reduce the rate of spread and viral load of the disease, especially in closed and crowded areas. 
We would like to remind everyone that wearing masks in closed areas is mandatory, negligence is a violation and perpetrators will be punished with a fine of up to AED 3,000, according to Public Prosecution Decision No. 38 for 2020."

Despite this communicated requirement, more relaxed adherence has been reported. Twitter users have responded to NCEMA with reports of public transport staff no longer wearing masks, as well as visitors to malls and supermarkets. 

Parent Views

In a recent poll on Facebook community group Parents United UAE, 81% of parents said they would like to see an end to masks being mandatory in schools, 4% felt it did not make much of a difference, and 13% felt that masks in schools should not be removed yet. 

UAE based mum Dr Victoria Cronin, said:

"Most developed countries have stopped mask wearing entirely. My home country, the UK, never forced primary age children to wear masks. I regularly see adults at their office desks and within meetings without masks, even passing through the airport and malls, I see many people not wearing their masks. Yet within schools, children are being forced to comply with the rules when the rest of the country appear more relaxed. It's just not fair or appropriate to do this to our children any longer. "

Dubai-based mother and teacher, Jade Harrison, added:

"As parent and teacher myself I understand the need for children to feel comfortable to learn effectively. Children already go through a lot of intense ‘focus’ time at school and feel that having to wear a mask all day everyday can negatively impact their learning potential, especially since it has been ongoing now for a few years."

Aliaa Ibrahim, also a mum based in Dubai, agrees:

"I do not see any need for masks in schools now. Families and children were enjoying summer activities all over Dubai with no masks. Moreover, families have been traveling to different countries with no masks. I think schools just need to give more focus to disinfect and clean everyday, and give the chance to children to breath  and get fresh air."

Will the Masks Come Off?

As they say, no news is good news. In previous years, updated protocols from KHDA and ADEK have been released very close to the first day of term, meaning this possibility is still open. It is a possibility also that any potential change in protocol would be dependent on rates of cases once residents traveling over summer have returned.

At present, the UAE's education authorities are keeping quiet on this possibility. will, of course, report on any changes to school protocols communicated - so make sure you visit us daily for the very latest updates.

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