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Friday, Jun 09, 2023

Hong Kong pupils react to axed Covid mask rules with mix of joy, nerves

Hong Kong pupils react to axed Covid mask rules with mix of joy, nerves

Some students went to class with smiles on their faces after nearly three years of covering up, while many more kept masks on to calm their nerves.

Pupils across Hong Kong have met their first mask-free at school in almost three years with a mix of joy and nervousness, with some youngsters seeing their classmates’ faces for the first time and others expressing unease at being among the few to go uncovered.

Teacher Helen Luk of Creative Kindergarten & Day Nursery in Kowloon Tong on Wednesday said the lifting of the city’s mask rules would help educators with instruction and supervising classes.

“It was previously more difficult to see whether children were participating in lessons, like whether they were reciting sentences or singing along,” she said.

The policy change also removed a roadblock to teaching, Luk said, recalling that a pupil had previously used his mask to conceal chewing his pencil lead during class.

“I noticed the student seemed to be biting on something. Only when I removed the mask did I realise he was chewing on pencil lead and his mouth was all black,” she said.

“For such incidents, if the students weren’t wearing masks, the teachers could have discovered them sooner.”

Lau Sing-yuen, a five-year-old pupil at the kindergarten, who had worn masks since he started classes, said he was nervous about going out with his face uncovered and struggled at first to recognise his classmates.

“But I still prefer not to wear a mask as it’s more cooling,” he said.

Classmate Lai King-yung, six, said she was happy to see her friends’ faces for the first time in almost three years.

She was all smiles as she joined her friends in a game of tug of war.

“They look cuter without [the masks] and we have become closer friends,” she said.

“When I talk to my friends, it sounds clearer. If they don’t know what I’m saying, I can open my mouth wider and repeat what I just said to them. I can tell them secrets now.”

But the six-year-old also said her parents had encouraged her to wear masks in class, as they told her there were “more germs” there.

Principal Vivien So Wai-ling said the kindergarten respected the choice of parents and pupils when it came to mask-wearing.

“Some children who have worn masks for a long time may need more time to get used to not wearing them, since it’s been three years,” she said.

“Some parents will tell us about their concerns with language learning issues, so they would prefer their children not to wear masks.”

At Tsz Wan Shan Catholic Primary School, a mother who asked not to be named said her son had worn a big smile when he headed to campus on Wednesday, after previously expressing a reluctance to mask-up, but was shocked to be in the minority.

She said she had calmed him down and given him a mask to wear before he entered the school.

At morning assembly, the school told pupils they could decide whether they wanted to wear masks.

Most students are still reluctant to go to out without their masks.

The Post observed that most students were wearing masks as they headed to schools along Po Kong Village Road in Tsz Wan Shan.

Six-year-old Kyla Wong took out her mask just before heading into PLK Grandmont Primary School.

Her father Bryant Wong said she had counted the number of people wearing masks on the bus. “I know she was nervous about taking off her mask. So I told her it is all right to put it on,” he said.

Asked if she preferred wearing a mask, the six-year-old nodded her head. “I feel secure,” she said, adding she had no plans about going mask-free.

Her schoolmate Melody Ng also wore a mask, saying she felt safer with it on.

But she said she would consider going without her mask if all of her classmates did so. “I may take it off if that happens,” she said.

The Education Bureau on Tuesday updated its health guidelines for schools and advised teachers, other staff and pupils to wear masks if they had a fever or respiratory symptoms.

It also advised parents and schools to help students adjust to the lifting of the mask mandate, noting some children could feel uncomfortable or anxious if told to take off their face coverings.

The bureau also suggested teachers help students express themselves about the change through activities such as writing down their thoughts or concerns, and encourage pupils to respect the decisions of their classmates on wearing masks.

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