Primary school pupils or staff who can not prove they are medically exempt from wearing a mask will be refused entry into the school, the Government said yesterday.
In guidance sent to schools last night pupils from third class and up will have to wear a covering from today.
Children aged nine and over will have to wear masks on public transport, retail and other indoor public settings.
In a letter to primary schools last night, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said the high cases among five to 11-year-olds “is a cause for some concern”.
He added: “Ensure your child wears a mask if it is recommended for them. I am keenly aware these measures are not what any of us want to hear, particularly at this time of year.
“Parents have a key role to play in reducing transmission within and between households.
“When incidence of disease is as high as it is, it means the force of infection is pushed down through the unvaccinated population and into our unvaccinated children.
“While we know most in this age group will experience a very mild form of this disease if they pick it up, for a small few, they may become severely ill.”
Parents and principals of schools were left angered at the rushed news with one principal telling the Irish Mirror the late notice was “irresponsible”.
Simon Lewis, head of Carlow Educate Together School, said: “The guidance from the Department of Education came to us at 5.30pm and it expects us to implement masks for pupils 12 hours later without any real consultation.
“I heard about it on Twitter and it’s not an appropriate way to communicate this.
“The actual content is confusing, there are so many questions.
“And refusing a child to enter school is effectively suspending a child. There are too many unanswered questions.”
The Department of Education told the Irish Mirror that while the instruction regarding face masks applies from Wednesday, schools should show “flexibility” for the first couple of days, while parents and pupils “get up to speed”.
It comes as another 5,471 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed with 579 Covid-19 patients in hospital, 122 of whom are in ICU.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin also said cases are “going through the roof” in children aged between five to 11.
He told the Dail: “The target now is to get to the Christmas break, recalibrate and review.
“And the advice we have received this week from the public health doctors who are saying children should reduce their socialisation.
“Why? Because they showed us graphs yesterday that shows that cases in the five to 11 year olds are going through the roof and their parents also.
“And they are the two big bars in the graph that have gone up and we want to bring it down like the rest of the population.”
Pupils who will be exempt from face masks include those with difficulty breathing or other relevant medical conditions or any pupil who is unable to remove a covering without assistance.
Those who have special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing the cloth face covering or visor, may also be excused.
The guidance also states masks must not contain slogans/logos/images that may cause upset or deemed offensive.
It adds schools will be “best placed” to identify children whose complex needs are such that the wearing of face covering may not be possible for them, and to discuss this with parents as and when required.
In such circumstances a school may not require medical certification to provide an exemption to the wearing of face coverings.
For pupils using public school transport from third class are also required to wear face masks subject to the exemptions above.
Where there are mixed classes for example second and third class in a single classroom, schools should note only children in third class and above, are required to wear face masks.
Dr Tony Holohan also asked parents to reduce their children’s social contact for the next two weeks at least.
He said indoor birthday parties, playdates, sleepovers and gatherings like Communions, Confirmations and pantos should be avoided.
Dr Holohan encouraged parents to have birthday parties outside “and should be kept small”.
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