For children with disabilities or sensory issues, it could potentially be impossible for them to wear masks at all, he said.
“Whether it’s indoor or outdoors, the younger children are, the less they’ll be able to sustain the wearing of masks,” Mr Elliott said.
“We have got to consider the mental health of children. While it’s a practical instruction … it adds to the uncertainty of the situation because no one is able to say how long they’ll have to wear the masks for.”
Mr Elliott encouraged parents and carers to explain to children why they themselves are wearing masks outside the home, in order to reduce friction in classrooms when in-person learning returns.
The World Health Organisation notes that while children under five should not wear masks, dependent on the ability of children between six and 11 years of age, masks could be important particularly when there is “widespread transmission in the area where the child resides”.
Burnet Institute epidemiologist Professor Michael Toole said the push for primary school-aged children to wear masks made both “epidemiological and symbolic sense”, communicating the seriousness of COVID-19 spread between children.
He said he was in favour of the new recommendation because it added another layer of protection for the community, likening Victoria’s approach to layering multiple slices of Swiss cheese until there were no holes for the virus to penetrate.
“We know now that so many kids are getting infected, and they are infecting their parents and other kids, so it makes logical sense,” he said.
“Each new measure is just like adding another slice of Swiss cheese, and yes, there’ll be holes in it.
“Some kids won’t wear them properly, and others will just find it really difficult. But I’ve seen young kids wearing them in my neighbourhood, and I don’t really foresee it as a problem.”
Premier Daniel Andrews stressed the call for children over five to wear masks was not a legal requirement, but an “advisory”.
The recommendation came on the same day the Victorian government announced that childcare centres would be closed except for the children of essential workers.
“We have got to limit the amount of movement that is occurring that involves our smallest children,” Mr Andrews said.
With Tom Cowie
Stay across the most crucial developments related to the pandemic with the Coronavirus Update. Sign up for the weekly newsletter.