There is no evidence that wearing masks is detrimental to children’s health or language deve­lop­ment, according to experts.

Ahead of the opening of the scholastic year, students are to wear masks “at all times”, except while eating and during physical exertion. Kindergarten children can remove masks while in their class bubble.

The health authorities say that “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”.

However, nearly 2,500 concerned parents have signed a petition calling for children to be allowed to remove masks while seated in class.

Norma Camilleri, president of the Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and of the European Association of Speech and Language Therapy, says there have been no reports of an increase in the number of children with language delay due to mask wearing.

Rather, she said, it was the temporary lack of socialising that had an impact on language and social skills.

“Another difficulty that the masks may pose is related to the voice. Children and adults alike may strain to project their voice when using the mask. In our clinics we do see a number of clients with voice disorders.

“It is obviously difficult to say that the use of mask is the sole perpetrator of a voice disorder, but it certainly puts one at more risk, especially those who talk at length with the mask,” she said.

One must remember that the main aim of wearing a mask is of limiting COVID transmission

The face is a source of social and emotional information: “We convey a lot of information with our non-verbals, and these help children in their language deve­lopment. Visibility of the mouth also helps in speech development, that is, articulation.

“With this in mind, one may come to the conclusion that mask wearing may be detrimental for speech and language development. However, there is no scientific evidence that this might be the case,” Camilleri said.

As for other health problems, consultant paediatrician and respiratory and allergy specialist Patrick Sammut, said he has not come across mask-related respiratory issues in children, nor has he read any medical lite­rature that supports or demonstrates this.

The fact is, he said, mask wearing limits the transmission of coronavirus, and other illnesses for that matter.

“I am duty bound to go by scientific evidence which shows that masks limit transmission. Opinion counts for nothing. It’s science that counts,” he said.

While the mask was introduced to limit the spread of COVID-19, it is also limiting the spread of other viruses, such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, he pointed out.

“The overall effect in children will be much greater through limiting these infections rather than COVID itself.

“One must remember that the main aim of wearing a mask is of limiting COVID transmission, not only to other children, but to the whole popu­lation and, in doing so, protecting the more vulnerable.

“There’s also the issue that the more COVID-19 we have in the population the higher the risk of a new mutation that is more transmissible and more aggressive, possibly even to children.”

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