Staff and pupils have spoken of their joy as a long-standing mask mandate was lifted at schools across the Emirates on Wednesday.
It was a sight to behold for many in the education sector — which was greatly disrupted by the pandemic — as uncovered faces were on show in classrooms for the first time in more than 900 days.
The National visited Brighton College Dubai as the relaxed Covid-19 safety measures were welcomed with beaming smiles.
For some pupils, it was the first time they were able to take part in lessons without a mask.
Headmaster Simon Crane said the momentous day had been a long time coming.
“It has been 916 days since masks became compulsory to wear in school as part of the measures to control the spread of Covid-19,” he said.
“We are absolutely delighted that we’ve reached this stage. We were over the moon on Monday evening when it was announced.”
He was referring to Monday’s announcement by the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority that masks would no longer be mandatory for children and adults to wear in schools.
The ruling was part of a wider overhaul of the UAE’s rules regarding the fight against Covid-19.
Under the new protocols, masks will be mandatory only in places of worship and hospitals, on public transport and for food service providers.
“I am so happy today to see the children smiling. They look re-energised and ready to learn,” Mr Crane said.
Joy as restrictions are eased
“It will really enhance the experience for teachers as well to have that face to face contact," Mr Crane said.
“Having to wear masks was a barrier that we have now overcome.”
He said the mood among the pupils was one of glee.
“They are all smiling today like it is their birthday. They are all walking up and down the corridors talking about nothing else,” he said.
“It is great to see this day is finally here.”
The pupils themselves expressed how happy they were not to having to wear masks in school any more.
“It was a pleasant change and a lot of people had to resist the urge to put their masks on because they are so used to it at this stage,” said Year 13 pupil Kirk.
“Most people are definitely enjoying not having to wear a mask though because it was quite difficult and awkward for a lot of people to keep wearing them through the day.”
'Everyone is so happy'
Another pupil said the mood was akin to that of a celebration.
“Everyone is so happy and it feels like Covid is over at last,” said Year Six pupil Emma.
Her classmate Antonio concurred.
“Everyone is in a good mood because of this. We can feel free now and the teachers don’t have to always remind you to keep wearing your mask,” he said.
Year 5 pupils were also delighted to finally be able to attend school without the need to wear masks throughout the entire day.
“It’s really great, not just because it means Covid-19 is slowing down but also because you can see everyone’s smile and know if they are happy or not,” said Aasha.
Not having to constantly fidget with a mask to make sure it was being worn properly was the main benefit to her classmate, Maxi.
“You always had to make weird faces to make sure it was on your chin and covering your nose,” he said.
Teaching will become much easier now masks are no longer mandatory, said Michael Darby, the school’s head of science.
“You will be able to get your message across much clearer as your expressions won't be covered and your voice won’t be muffled by wearing a mask,” he said.
“The mood is really positive today.”
Before the new mask rules came into effect, Dubai school leaders heralded the positive impact of the decision.
“I think it’s a relief that we have got to that stage where the government feels this is the right next step for the population here,” said Clare Turnbull, principal at Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai.
Rebecca Coulter, principal at Dubai British School Jumeirah Park, shared the sentiment.
“We are thrilled at the news that masks will no longer need to be worn in school,” Ms Coulter said.
“It will be great to see people’s faces, smiles and reactions.
“For our younger pupils, those in Years One and Two, learning in masks is all they have known.
“It will be wonderful for them to see the faces of their teachers and their peers and to learn without the confines of a mask.”