UAE families rush to buy face masks before first day of school

Many parents opt for colourful face coverings to ease children in to wearing them

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Parents across the country have begun to shop for protective equipment for their children before the return to school classes next week.

Face masks and pocket hand sanitisers appeared alongside uniforms, books and bags on the back-to-school shopping lists for many families.

Colourful, graphic masks - both washable and disposable - are a popular purchase for younger pupils.

“I bought different masks for different days because my daughter is young and I want to try and normalise things for her,” said Dorsai Khaghani, whose 5-year-old daughter Karla goes to Gems Wellington International School.

We are supplying an estimated 250,000 kids' masks to UAE retailers and pharmacies

“I will be sending her back to school five days a week for three hours in the morning, from 7.45am to 10.45am, so she will bring one mask to wear and a spare one in case the other gets dirty.

“I’ve also bought her a mix of hand sanitisers to hang on her bag which have cartoon characters on them.”

Ms Khaghani, from Iran, said she spent Dh60 for a five pack of washable masks and about Dh100 for a pack of 50 disposable masks in assorted prints.

Stocking up on back-to-school essentials at Mall of the Emirates on Sunday was father of two Hilario Ubaldo.

His sons, Jettliam Ubaldo, 5 and Geoff Ivan, 10, attend Gems Winchester School in Dubai and will return to class full-time on August 30.

“In total, we’ve paid out about Dh1,000 extra on face masks and sanitisers so they can return to school safely,” said Mr Ubaldo, from the Philippines.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Kelly Clarke. Coronavirus/Covid-19. Karla Sati with mum Dorsai Khaghani. Parents rush to buy PPE for children in time for back-to-school. Sunday, August 23rd, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dorsai Khaghani says she spent hundreds of dirhams on colourful face masks for her five-year-old daughter Karla. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“We paid more for masks that have kid-friendly designs on them because this is going to be a weird transition for them.

“With all these safety measures in place it will take some getting used to.

“I thought why not make the experience more enjoyable by giving them masks that are more playful.”

In Dubai, pupils aged six and above are required to wear face masks at all times.

In Abu Dhabi, the same rules apply and the education authority said children must bring at least two masks to school each day.

They were also requested to carry a 70 to 80 per cent alcohol-based sanitiser, where possible.

Mother-of-two Farah Altaher said her five-year-old twin girls, Ghazal and Yara, will join KG2 at Emirates International School – Jumeirah at the end of the month.

“Although they are below six years old, we will be sending them to school in masks,“ she said.

“Yara has leukemia and has never been to school so we didn’t want her to miss out this year.

“The school has kept us up-to-date with all the precautionary measures in place so we’re confident with our decision.”

Because of Yara’s illness, Ms Altaher, from Jordan, said the family is used to wearing masks at home so the girls were well prepared for what to expect.

“We’ve kept it fun for them and bought masks with colourful designs and prints," she said.

“We spent a little extra buying additional protective items, maybe a few hundred dirhams, but we would rather be safe than sorry.”

In recent weeks, shops in the UAE stocked up on large quantities of masks for children in preparation for the back-to-school shopping rush.

Affordable disposable masks, priced at just Dh2 each, can be found in hypermarkets and pharmacies across the Emirates. More durable, washable alternatives are on sale at a number of high street shops, including Claire’s Accessories and Centrepoint, for anywhere between Dh25 to Dh70.

Even larger quantities of masks adorned with cartoons and animals, up to 50 in some cases, can be found online at Amazon and Noon, among others.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Kelly Clarke. Coronavirus/Covid-19. Masks on sale at Claire's Accessories. Parents rush to buy PPE for children in time for back-to-school. Sunday, August 23rd, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Masks on sale at Claire's Accessories in Mall of the Emirates. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Over the past month, Fine Hygienic Holding, a manufacturer of hygiene products, has supplied hundreds of thousands of children’s face masks to stores in the UAE.

"We are supplying an estimated 250,000 kids' masks to UAE retailers and pharmacies," James Lafferty, chief executive at Fine, told The National.

“Our kids’ masks are catered to pre-teens, and come in fun and colourful designs, one for boys and one for girls.

“As back-to-school season has started, we have indeed seen a strong pick-up in our online sales, by an estimated 30 per cent.”

We make them with thick materials which are used by doctors, not the flimsy, thin ones which you often see on the market

Natasha Bajaj, founder of Nats and Jun, a maternity retailer in Dubai, started making child-friendly face shields when the pandemic hit.

She said sales of the Dh79 protective wear soared as younger children prepare to head back to class.

“I actually started making these because my son is very apprehensive about wearing a face mask," she said.

“I make them with thick materials which are used by doctors, not the flimsy, thin ones which you often see on the market.

“The demand has been crazy recently. I have sold more than 1,000 shields recently.”

Earlier this month, Dr Omar Al Hammadi, an official representative for the UAE Government, said children over the age of two should wear masks while out in public.

Although they are less likely to develop serious symptoms of Covid-19, he said they can carry the virus and pass it on, so precautions must be taken to protect them.