Despite an increase in new Covid-19 cases, the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) announced on Wednesday that it would repeal the mask mandate in schools.
Masks will no longer be required in NSW high schools for students or staff beginning February 28, according to the Xinhua news agency.
Schools will be able to welcome more visitors, including parents, and activities such as assemblies and school camps will resume.
From March 7, teachers and staff at primary schools and childcare centres will no longer be required to wear masks.
Schools will resume “pretty much normal” operations next week, according to NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, because transmission in schools is “extremely low.”
However, some experts are concerned that relaxing the restrictions would be premature.
Lidia Morawska, director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at Queensland University of Technology, told Xinhua that even with good ventilation, there are still a lot of infections in the community, and if people sit in close proximity, such as public transportation or hospitality venues, the probability of infection with a very highly infectious virus like Omicron is very high.
“Removing completely restrictions without thinking about the consequences of this will make life easier for yourself, but others will be dying because of this,” she said.
On Wednesday, NSW recorded 8,931 new cases, with 1,246 people admitted to hospitals. The daily increase in community cases increased dramatically from 4,916 on Monday to 8,752 on Tuesday.
Despite the fact that 94.3 percent of NSW residents aged 16 and up have received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, less than half of children aged 5 to 11 have received their first dose. In addition, 79% of juniors aged 12 to 15 have received two doses.
“The Omicron outbreak is not over. The removal of restrictions, such as indoor masks, will lead to a spike in infection and increase the pressure on healthcare burden,” said Gaetan Burgio, an expert in infectious diseases from the Australian National University College of Health and Medicine.
“Given the (national) number of cases still oscillates around 10,000 or 20,000 per day, the observed outbreaks are in majority in schools, where the vaccine coverage is relatively low,” Burgio told Xinhua.