The move follows a raft of other measures announced over the weekend in response to the news that three cases of the feared Omicron strain have been found in the UK
Pupils in Year 7 and above should wear masks in communal areas to try and slow the spread of the Omicron variant, the Government has said.
The move follows a raft of other measures announced over the weekend in response to the news that three cases of the feared strain have been found in the UK.
An email update from the Department for Education to education and childcare providers on Sunday said: “Face coverings should be worn in communal areas in all settings by staff, visitors and pupils or students in Year 7 and above, unless they are exempt.
“Pupils or students (in Year 7 or above) should continue to wear face coverings on public and dedicated school transport, unless they are exempt.”
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Like the measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a press conference on Saturday, the reintroduction of face masks into schools will be reviewed in three weeks.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “The news of a new variant – the so-called Omicron variant – will have understandably caused concern for people across our country, including our teachers, wider education and childcare staff, parents, pupils and students.
“We are already taking targeted and proportionate action as a precaution while we find out more information about the new variant.
“As we do so, we will continue to prioritise children’s and young people’s education and wellbeing, making sure education and childcare settings are as safe as possible and children continue to benefit from classroom teaching.
“We are working with education and childcare settings to enhance safety measures where needed, including introducing isolation for 10 days for close contacts of suspected Omicron cases.”
Face masks will also become compulsory on public transport and in shops from Tuesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid also announced on Sunday.
But the Cabinet minister told families they should plan for Christmas “as normal” and said it is “nowhere near” time to reintroduce social distancing rules and work-from-home guidance.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it had identified another case of Omicron in an individual with links to travel in southern Africa who visited Westminster in London before leaving the country on Sunday afternoon.
This follows the two infections discovered in Nottingham and Brentwood, Essex.
Dr Jenny Harries, the UKHSA chief executive, acknowledged it is “very likely” that further cases of Omicron, which is feared to spread rapidly and may evade existing vaccines to a degree, will be discovered in the coming days.
New measures introduced over the weekend will also see international arrivals entering the UK from Tuesday morning having to take a PCR test for Covid-19 and self-isolate until they get a negative result.
All contacts with a suspected case of Omicron will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status, under the emergency measures announced over the weekend.
Mr Javid said the compulsory use of masks in shops and public transport, but not in pubs and restaurants, will come into force in England on Tuesday, bringing the nation back closer into line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
He said it “would be irresponsible to make guarantees” during the ever-changing pandemic, but he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas, I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.”
With the Government stopping short of introducing its Plan B to tackle Covid-19 this winter, Mr Javid downplayed there being a need to reintroduce social distancing rules or work-from-home guidance.
“We know now those types of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-Covid health outcomes such as impact on mental health,” he told Sky.
“So, if one was to make decisions like that they would have to be done very, very carefully and we’re not there yet, we’re nowhere near that.”
Mr Javid said he expects to receive new advice “imminently”, within the next couple of days, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) after it was tasked with reviewing whether boosters should be extended to all over-18s.
The group will also consider whether second doses should be offered to 12 to 15-year-olds, and whether the waiting time before a booster jab could be reduced.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.