The decision of a Walloon town to make wearing a face mask mandatory in schools for children from 6 years old goes against the advice from Belgium’s Risk Assessment Group (RAG).
In a report published on 10 October – which is before the town of Courcelles decided to make masks mandatory in primary schools when they reopen on Monday 16 November – the RAG made it clear that it did “NOT (sic) recommend the use of masks for primary school children.”
The RAG, made up of 22 experts from Belgium’s various universities, hospitals, and health and child administrations, give opinions and advice on which policies are based, and on which measures are taken.
According to them, the risk of transmission should be reduced by taking other types of measures, such as adults wearing masks and all the other measures provided for in the sector protocol for education.
The report was based on a review of the international scientific literature by the Canadian Collaborative Centre for Methods and Tools, which states that “the risk of transmission from children to children and children to adults in primary school and daycare settings appears low.”
This does not mean that there is no risk, but that the risk is low enough to offset the need for learning and socialisation of children, as paediatricians have often repeated since the beginning of the crisis.
The RAG also took the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s opinion into account, which states that the decision to use masks for children aged 6-11 should be based on a risk-based approach.
Young children wearing a mask is possible, according to the WHO, if it will not hinder the child’s psychosocial development, and the child has the ability to use the mask correctly and safely.
Several studies, however, have already shown that children under 12 years old do not know how to handle and wear the mask properly, which renders it not only ineffective, but possibly even dangerous.
“The use of the mask was more effective in children aged 9 to 12 than in children aged 6 to 9,” a study in Japan on the seasonal flu epidemic, referred to by the RAG, concluded.
Other studies have shown that children between the ages of 5 and 11 were less well protected than adults because they did not adapt well to the mask. One child in two wears the mask incorrectly, according to a study carried out during the covid-19 pandemic.
“Other studies have also found that heat, irritation, breathing difficulties, discomfort, distraction, low social acceptability and poor mask fit were reported by children wearing the mask,” the RAG said.
The Brussels Times