Updated at 1.42pm with PN statement. 

Pupils will still have to wear masks in class but P.E., lab work, and classroom birthday parties will be permitted when school resumes later this month. 

Education Minister Justyne Caruana announced the new COVID-19 rules during a news conference on Tuesday morning. 

Students will have to continue to wear face masks in class, irrespective of whether they are vaccinated or not. 

Caruana said there would be no discrimination between children and teachers who are vaccinated and those who decide not to get the jab. The vaccine has been available for the over 12s since  June. 

Video: Matthew Mirabelli

Social distancing

She said that students in Year 8 and under will have to sit 1.5 metres apart while those in Year 9 and over will have to keep their desks one metre apart.  

School assemblies can now be held but social distancing and the principle of bubbles must be respected, she said.  

Fieldwork classes, sessions in science labs, physical education, and special activities such as classroom birthday celebrations will be permissible as long as social distancing and the bubble principle is respected, the minister said.

Lab apparatus and other equipment used in sports and so on will need to be regularly sanitised. 

Stores selling food in school, known as tuck shops, will be allowed to open but only prepackaged items can be sold.  

Parents or guardians will not be allowed to attend activities at school for the time being, however, this could change later in the year depending on the spread of the virus.  

Kindergarten assistants and Learning Support Educators (LSEs) are to wear both a mask and a visor.  

Preventative measures for the vulnerable, and all those not mentioned during the press conference will remain in place.  

Caruana said the new protocols had been approved by health authorities last week and were discussed with stakeholders in recent days, including schools, educators and their respective representatives.   

Caruana said the authorities’ focus is to have students back in class, but she could not rule out virtual lessons may be used were necessary.  

In the case of quarantine, all the national protocols apply.  

On graduation ceremonies, the minister said they are in discussions with stakeholders to see how best to proceed.

Masks

When it comes to the wearing of masks, students and teachers are to wear them at all times, except while eating and during physical exertion.

This was because “evidence to date shows that wearing a mask is an effective means of preventing spread to others in conjunction with maintaining an adequate physical distance from others,” according to the guidelines.

In the case of kindergarten, children can remove masks while in their class bubble as physical distancing will be encouraged but not expected from them.

The size of the cohort in the kindergarten years should be based on a calculation of a 1.5-metre distance between one child and another and a 2-metre distance from a kindergarten educator in relation to the particular room size.

Music classes

Music lessons, involving wind instrument, and drama may present additional risks in view of the potential of aerosol generation.

Additional measures should be adopted during these lessons such as preferably holding lessons outdoors, increasing the physical distances between students.

Quarantine unchanged

As for the quarantine protocol, the same procedure as last year will apply.

If a child or a household member of the child tests positive for coronavirus the school’s COVID-19 liaison team will work with the health authorities to carry out contact tracing to identify who else would have to quarantine.

Quarantine requirements will follow national guidelines.

In the case of vaccinated individuals, they will have to quarantine for seven days and then carry out a test before returning to school.

Non-vaccinated students will have to quarantine for 14 days.

Schools are set to open on September 28.

Last month, Times of Malta reported how schools are likely to again follow strict COVID-19 measures when students return to their desks.  

Earlier on Tuesday, educators complained of being in the dark over what classes they will be teaching when schools open.  

On Monday, a parents' association said it was time for school life to finally get back to normal. 

In a statement later on Tuesday afternoon, the Nationalist Party said it welcomed the announcement but it would have been better had the information had been given sooner to avoid unnecessary pressure on parents, students, and educators. 

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