LONDON | The British government revised its instructions on wearing masks in high school in England, after claiming they were not necessary, prompting further criticism on Wednesday over its handling of the novel coronavirus epidemic.
In areas with high transmission of the virus, adults and students will now need to cover their faces when moving around secondary schools. Wearing a mask will not, however, be compulsory in classrooms, where the risks are considered lower.
In the rest of the country, the government does not recommend the wearing of a mask, but leaves the establishments to decide “if they consider that it is appropriate for their particular situation”, the ministry for Education said in a statement released Tuesday evening.
This change of position is based on the WHO recommendations expressed on Friday in favor of wearing a mask from the age of 12 to fight against the transmission of the virus.
It also comes in the wake of a similar decision taken in Scotland, with each of the UK’s constituent nations having jurisdiction over education.
School principals pushed for the use of the mask, supported by Labor, the main opposition party, and teachers’ unions.
However, the measure does not satisfy either Labor, which believes that the wearing of masks should be generalized in the common areas of schools, or certain Conservative deputies.
“It is impossible to understand why this was not done sooner,” said a Tory deputy quoted on condition of anonymity by The Times. “It’s fiasco after fiasco, about-face after about-face,” he lamented.
Another Conservative MP, Marcus Fysh, said the government was “completely wrong”. “Masks should be banned from schools,” he said on Twitter.
This change is in addition to another on the scoring of exams, canceled this year due to coronavirus, a fiasco which led to the resignation of the boss of Ofqual, the exam regulator.
These controversies have weakened the Minister of Education, Gavin Williamson. After having assured just a few days ago that the masks were not necessary, he justified his decision by affirming that the government “listened to the most recent scientific and medical advice”.