Gavin Williamson Says Wearing Masks In Schools Could Return If Covid Cases Rise
The government is setting up a national testing programme as schools return to try and prevent a spike in Covid-19 (Alamy)
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said he will "move heaven and earth" to keeps schools open, and that there is a "contingency framework” in place if the new term causes a spike in Covid cases.
Williamson explained how important pupil testing will be in trying to keep cases down, but said further mitigation measures such as mask-wearing could return.
There is "a contingency framework in place if there are areas where we do need to take action”, Williamson said.
Experts predict the start of the school year in England this month will lead to an increase in Covid-19 cases, as it has in Scotland where pupils have been back for several weeks.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, said authorities had anticipated new outbreaks as classrooms reopened.
"Outbreaks are part of normal practice, there's a tried and tested way of addressing them," she told BBC Breakfast.
"All the time we will try to minimise the disruption for both school, but also for the home life.
"Obviously it's the balance between safety and disruption, and that's just normal business and we'll be dealing with that."
She added: ”We're asking children and young people to do is to take two tests on site, in person, in their first week and to take two tests each week until the end of September.
“That will pick up any hidden late-summer viruses.”Williamson could not rule out children going back to classrooms leading to a rise in coronavirus infections.
“This is why we're doing the testing programme and we're encouraging children to take part in it, parents, and of course teachers and support staff as well,” he told Sky News.
"This is a way of rooting out Covid. We're trying to strike that constant, sensible balance of actually giving children as normal experience in the classroom as possible, but also recognising we're still dealing with a global pandemic.”
Sage advisor Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, said “schools will become a greater part of the problem than they were before”.
He told BBC Breakfast: “Because if you want to have schools operating as near-normal as possible with full classes, and you can't do social distancing as effectively compared to workplaces where the adults are working from home, and are vaccinated."
Semple added that better ventilation is needed: "It's tricky. Many schools are built to be heat-efficient rather than well-ventilated now and that's a problem.
“So I think a lot of emphasis has to go on to improving the quality of building stock."
Williamson did not rule out more classes and assemblies having to take place outside in the event of coronavirus outbreaks in schools.
"It is certainly not something that we'd be expecting to see an awful lot of, especially in autumn and winter,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
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