25 Aug Coronavirus: Wales announces review into face mask use in schools – hours after Scotland takes action | Politics News
The Welsh government is to review whether children should wear face coverings in schools after Scottish pupils were told to put on masks in corridors.
Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething has asked a scientific advisory group to consider the current guidance for schools in Wales, which are due to return next week.
Just hours earlier on Tuesday, the Scottish government revealed secondary school pupils in Scotland will have to wear face coverings when moving through corridors and other communal areas from next Monday.
All pupils over the age of five will also have to wear face masks on school buses in Scotland.
The developments will heap further pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to change the guidance on face coverings in English schools.
Downing Street has said there are “no plans” to change the current advice in England, which states face masks are not recommended because pupils and staff are mixing in consistent groups.
The UK government has also pointed to other measures schools are taking to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Mr Johnson stressed on Tuesday that “all of our scientific advice is that schools are safe”.
However, he opened the door to a possible future review of the guidance on face masks by adding: “We will look at changing medical evidence as we go on – if we need to change advice of course we will.”
In a sign of some of the pressure Mr Johnson might be under not to review the existing guidance, Conservative MP Marcus Fysh – the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education – tweeted: “Masks should be banned in schools.
“The country should be getting back to normal not pandering to this scientifically illiterate guff.”
Both the Welsh government and Scottish government highlighted new advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) – which said children aged 12 and over should wear masks – as a factor behind their decisions.
But Margaret Harris, a WHO spokesperson, told Sky News that the wearing of face masks in schools should still be a “local decision”.
“The really important point here is what happens in the schools, the decisions in the schools, are something that should be made by the local authorities in conjunction with the teachers and the parents in each area,” she said.
“Because what you need to be very aware of is, what is the transmission status? What is actually going on in your community?
“So the first thing we’re saying is: really understand your transmission.”
She added children aged over 12, in terms of the transmission of COVID-19, have the “same sorts of risks as adults”.
“If there are really enclosed environments, if you really cannot ensure good ventilation, [and] you cannot make it possible for them to physically distance more than a metre apart, then the wearing of masks may be something you add to the armoury,” the WHO spokesperson said.
Mr Gething said the Welsh government’s review would “look at any additional risks and benefits to children, young people and staff from the wearing of face coverings in school settings”.
He spoke shortly after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon used her daily coronavirus briefing to confirm the updated guidance for Scottish schools would come into effect from Monday, 31 August.
“Adults and pupils in secondary schools should wear face coverings when they’re moving around school in areas where distancing is challenging,” she said.
“For example, through corridors or in communal spaces.
“And, secondly, adults and children aged five and over should wear face coverings on dedicated school transport.
“That, of course, simply now mirrors the situation on public transport more generally.”
She said the updated advice was based on “the latest scientific evidence, as well as the real-life experience of schools” since they reopened in Scotland on 11 August.
Teaching unions have added to the calls for Mr Johnson to follow the example of Scotland – and now Wales – and review the guidance on face coverings in English schools.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said – if there was to be a “U-turn” by the prime minister on the issue – it should be made “sooner rather than later, because the start of the new term is imminent”.