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Boris Johnson hints u-turn over masks in schools coming as he admits medical advice could change

BORIS Johnson today hinted a u-turn is coming over kids wearing face masks in schools as he said the medical advice COULD change.

The PM’s suggestion that a u-turn was on the cards in the coming hours comes Scotland ordering kids to wear them at school from Monday.

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TES reported this lunchtime thuat the Government is expected to make a major u-turn this afternoon – saying that masks will be worn by kids at school in communal areas.

It reported that Public Health England and the DFE have signed off the move.

Department for Education sources did not deny this story today.

This afternoon Boris Johnson said the Government would always review the evidence and the advice may change – in a suggestion another about-turn was on the cards.

On a business visit today he told reporters: “On the issue of whether or not to wear masks in some contexts – you know, we’ll look at the the changing medical evidence as we go on.

“If we need to change the advice then of course we will.”

It comes 24 hours after No10 insisted that the Government would not be launching a fresh review after the World Health Organisation said all kids over 12 should wear them.

Asked why the UK Government was ignoring the WHO, Mr Johnson said this lunchtime: “The overwhelming priority is to get all pupils into school.

“If there are things we have to do to vary the advice on medical grounds, we will, of course, do that.

“But as the chief medical officer, all our scientific advisers, have said, schools are safe.”

Meanwhile schools started to announce their own policies on face masks – piling pressure on the PM to change tack.

The Oasis Academy chain of 52 schools today joined several others in saying that their pupils would have to wear masks in corridors and other communal areas to stop the spread of the virus when schools return next week.

The chain’s founder, Steve Chalke, said this morning: “Oasis has booked face visors & masks for all our school staff & masks (colour coded for year groups) for our secondary students for transition in corridors etc.”

It came as Scotland confirmed that school pupils will have to wear face coverings in corridors and communal areas from next Monday.

Any kids over the age of 5 will have to wear them on school transport from Monday too, it was confirmed today.

Ms Sturgeon said today she thought it was the “right thing to do”.

There are no plans for mandatory face coverings inside classrooms, however.

The Welsh Government are also set to review their evidence on face coverings in schools.

Boris Johnson is to give an online press-conference style event in the next few days to try and allay fears about the return to school.

No10 opened up the floor for questions about coronavirus online today.

The Government’s advice as of May 11, which is based on information from SAGE says: “Face coverings do not need to be worn in schools.”

And Business Secretary Alok Sharma said today: “Throughout this process we have followed the scientists and medical advice. PHE doesn’t currently recommend face coverings in schools. The reason is pupils and staff mix in consistent groups.

“We are always considering the latest advice and evidence.”

Headteachers are today calling on the Government to review their face masks advice ahead of schools’ return.

The Association of School and College leaders said today there was a lack of clarity on the issue.

And Director of Public Health for Gateshead, Alice Wiseman, said she would review the issue with local heads.

“It is my intention to have a broad discussion with teachers in Gateshead to see what would work best for them and their parents,” she told Radio 4 today.

“We need to make sure they are not used as an alternative for the most effective prevention measure, such as social distancing.”

Former Education Secretary Justine Greening said this morning the Government should at least consider the matter.

She told the BBC: “It is something ministers and gov should consider.

“It just seems a sensible potential step that should be looked at.

“It is one of the things that can be considered to not only put confidence back into a system that badly needs it but to be another step that can help reduce risks.”

Scottish and Northern Irish schools have already gone back, and pupils in England will return to classrooms from next week.

But yesterday the Government insisted that it would not look again at face masks for kids in schools – despite a World Health Organisation recommendation that over 12s should wear them.

No10 insisted that masks in schools would harm kids’ learning – and there were no plans to look again at the advice.

Gavin Williamson slapped down Nicola Sturgeon’s demands for coverings – and said there was no evidence children should have to wear masks on top of the social distancing policies that are going to be in place.

Children are placed in social “bubbles” of their classes and have to stay 2m away from their teachers when they return to the classroom.

Mr Williamson said last night: “We’re not in a position where we are suggesting [masks for schoolchildren] because we think there is a system of controls, that are in place in all schools, for children to be able to return safely and for staff to be able to return safely.”

At the moment kids under the age of 11 don’t have to wear them at all across the UK.

But those over 11 have to wear them like adults do in shops and on public transport.

At the moment it’s up to individual schools and heads if they want to enforce mask-wearing – with a handful choosing to do so.

Oasis has booked face visors & masks for all our school staff & masks (colour coded for year groups) for our secondary students for transition in corridors etc. We’re also booking extra space (offices, church halls etc.) for a number of our schools.

Think ‘Hands, Face & Space.’

Ms Sturgeon has said kids can wear them in classrooms if they want to.

She told the daily coronavirus briefing yesterday: “We’re consulting on this specific measure because, firstly, mixing between different groups is more likely in corridors and communal areas – increasing the potential for transmission.

“Secondly, crowding and close contact in these areas is more likely and voices could be raised, resulting in greater potential for creating aerosol transmission.

“Finally, there’s also less scope for ventilation in these areas.”

A Number 10 spokesman said: “There are no plans to review the guidance on face coverings in schools.

“We are conscious of the fact that it would obstruct communication between teachers and pupils.

“I don’t think the WHO guidance refers specifically to whether a child over 12 should wear a mask in school.”

The Department of Education said that masks were not necessary as other measures were in place – such as bubbles and extra cleaning.

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