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SA to decide whether to lift mask mandate in schools

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A decision on whether to keep or ditch a mask mandate in South Australian secondary schools is set to be made this morning.

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Premier Peter Malinauskas says he hopes the restriction can be lifted.

The state’s Emergency Management Council, chaired by the Premier, will meet at 9am, with the school mask requirement one of the “key decisions” to be made.

“I would like to lift the mask mandate in high schools,” Malinauskas told reporters yesterday afternoon.

“I think it’s difficult for students to be learning in that environment, it’s not natural, so if we can lift it in a safe way, that would be a good thing, but we’re not going to make a decision ahead of time. Any decision we do make will be done in concert with the health advice.”

Masks are currently compulsory for high school students and recommended for those in years 3 to 6.

Malinauskas said one “real possibility” is that masks will become recommended rather than compulsory for high school students.

“Most people don’t want students having to wear masks if they don’t have to,” he said.

“Just because you lift the mask mandate, doesn’t mean you deny students or anyone in the community the option to continue to wear masks, what it’s about is giving people choice.”

Malinauskas said he expected to receive an update from Education Minister Blair Boyer – who yesterday tested positive for COVID – on works being undertaken in schools to improve ventilation.

A spokesperson for Boyer told InDaily in a statement that half of all schools identified needing ventilation remediation works had now had that work done.

“As one of many strategies used to manage risks associated with COVID-19 in schools and preschools, the department has issued work orders for ventilation remediation works at 653 schools and preschools,” the spokesperson said.

“Currently, 328 (50 per cent) of these sites have had natural ventilation completely remediated, which in practical terms means that around 3587 more rooms in our schools and preschools can now open their windows to bring in more fresh air.

“The contractors completing this work have advised that approximately 75 per cent of schools and preschools will have ventilation work completed by the end of May, with a target completion of the end of June.

“Unfortunately we’re playing catch-up in this area as this is work that should’ve been completed last year.

“Challenges in progressing this work include workforce availability, replacing (old) windows with new parts and undertaking this work at our more hard to reach sites.”

Latest Education Department statistics show that as of last Friday there were 3409 students and 652 staff absent from public schools infected with COVID.

The department said Henley High School, Playford International College, Port Augusta Secondary School and Yalata Anangu School had all had recent disruptions from COVID ranging from part school to whole school remote learning.

A series of primary school vaccination clinics is due to start operating on Friday to help improve lagging rates in 5 to 11-year-olds.

South Australia yesterday recorded 3127 new COVID-19 cases and an increase in hospitalisations.

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