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Sun, 27 September 2020

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Boris Johnson says he could change face masks advice in schools but insists pupils are 'safe' to return

Boris Johnson says he could change face masks advice in schools but insists pupils are 'safe' to return

Boris Johnson has vowed to reopen schools in England from Monday. (PA)

3 min read

Boris Johnson has suggested he could U-turn on his opposition to the use of face masks but insisted schools remain "safe" to reopen from next week.

The Prime Minister said he would "of course" change advice on the wearing of face masks in schools if there was "changing medical evidence" to suggest they could halt the spread of infection.

It came as Labour backed the use of face masks in secondary schools and urged the Government to avoid "another last minute u-turn" on the issue.

Mr Johnson has come under pressure to reconsider the rules after Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed adults and secondary school pupils would be asked to wear masks when in corridors and communal areas from 31 August.

That follows confirmation that seventeen members of staff and two pupils at a school in Dundee had tested positive for the virus less than two weeks after they returned.

And on Tuesday, a leading union also joined calls for ministers to provide greater clarity over whether staff and pupils in England would be allowed to wear masks if they choose.

Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: “The guidance is silent on what schools should do if staff or pupils want to wear face coverings.”

And he added that schools in England were still unclear over whether they had the flexibility to require or allow face masks in certain circumstances.

“We would expect the Government in Westminster to review its guidance on the use of face coverings in schools, which currently says they are not required, in light of the WHO guidance and the consultation that is taking place in Scotland,” Mr Barton said.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Johnson made clear the Government could shift its stance if advised to do so.

"There is far more risk to the wellbeing of our children from not going to school than there is from I'm afraid, the disease," he said.

"So that is my priority. On the issue of whether or not to wear masks in some contexts, we will look at the changing medical evidence as we go on. If we need to change the advice then of course we will."

He added: "As I say, the overwhelming priority is to get all pupils into school and I think that the schools, the teachers, they've all done a fantastic job of getting ready.

"The risk to children's wellbeing from not being in school is far greater than the risk from Covid. If there are things we have to do to vary the advice on medical grounds then we will of course do that.

"But as the Chief Medical Officer, all our scientific advisers have said, schools are safe, and that is the message."

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said: "There is a growing body of evidence that the use of facemasks in communal areas in secondary schools helps protect students and staff and drive down transmission.

"The Prime Minister must listen to this evidence and act quickly to give certainty to parents and teachers who are just days away from schools reopening.

"The last thing concerned parents and pupils need is another last minute u-turn from this government that throws school plans into chaos."

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