Coronavirus: Schools nervous but excited to welcome students back for the year

School's back in session, with one big difference - children as young as seven are in masks.

Mandatory face coverings for students in year 4 and above kicked in on Monday for the Omicron outbreak.

But some schools are worried about a shortage of teachers when the virus spreads widely in classes.

As students across the country walked through the school gates once again on Monday, 2022 means the school year will be a bit different with masks compulsory for many pupils. For many seven and eight-year-old students, it was the first time they'd been required to wear masks indoors. 

"These really good scientists say we have to wear them and it's best we follow their rules," one young student says.

The bell will soon ring at more and more schools, with all of them back by the start of next week - but questions remain over whether they're ready for a possible Omicron wave.

Principals are preparing for severe staff shortages due to COVID isolation rules.

"The thing I would ask from the Ministry is to allow teachers from overseas who want to live and work here to be able to get in," says Jayne-Ann Young, principal at Wellington's Queen Margaret College.

A single case in a school could have dozens of close contacts.

"You could be looking at up to 50 people - especially with our senior school," says Kate Pollard, principal at Lower Hutt's Chilton St James School.

Schools are calling for access to rapid antigen testing so staff can return from isolation. But right now they're just for critical workers, and so far schools are not on the list.

"That would be a gamechanger," Pollard says.

They're forced to prepare for online learning in case cases do explode.

"Our staff can do that in a day," Young says.

But for now at least, school is back in session - and teachers are determined to keep it that way.