Classroom mask rules, which bring England in line with other parts of the United Kingdom, will be brought in on a temporary basis in time for students to return after Christmas holidays next week. (REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo)
CHILDREN in secondary schools in England will be told to wear face coverings when they return after the Christmas holiday next week to tackle a surge in cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday (2).
“We want to maximise the number of children in school and college for the maximum amount of time,” he said in an article in the Sunday Telegraph.
“One of the additional, temporary measures that will help achieve this in light of the omicron surge is recommending face coverings are worn in secondary school classrooms and teaching spaces for the coming weeks – although not for longer than they are needed.”
England was the only one of the four UK nations where face coverings were not previously recommended in the classroom.
With daily infection numbers at record highs and people who test positive required to isolate themselves for at least seven days, schools and other public services are facing disruption from staff shortages.
Zahawi said some remote learning would be necessary given the number of pupils and teachers who would have to self-isolate.
But he added that face-to-face teaching would continue to be the expected norm and exams would go ahead as planned this month.
“The Prime Minister [Boris Johnson] and I have been clear that education is our number one priority. These measures will bolster our support to schools as we do everything in our power to minimise disruption,” said Zahawi.
“There is no doubt that the Omicron variant presents challenges but the entire education sector has responded with a Herculean effort, and for that, I thank each and every one of you,” he said.
The classroom rule, which does not include teachers, will apply until a review planned for January 26. The government also announced it would be making 7,000 air cleaning units available to schools and colleges as part of efforts to tackle the spread of Omicron.
The announcement comes as the UK recorded another 162,572 new Covid-19 cases in the country on Saturday (1).
There are fears of chaos in public services, transport networks, and the National Health Service (NHS).
Some rail services in January have already been cancelled or emergency timetables introduced amid soaring staff sickness.