OLDER kids may have to wear face masks in future, the children's commissioner suggested today.
Anne Longfield said she wouldn't want to rule out a change to the Government's advice if the science changes, or it meant schools could stay open during a fresh wave.
At the moment kids under 11 don't have to wear a mask at all – and no one needs to wear one in the classroom at all.
Kids will be put in "bubbles" when they return and not mix with other classes to try and stop the spread of the virus.
Adults in Britain have to cover up when going into a shop or on public transport – but there are some exceptions.
Ms Longfield told BBC Breakfast earlier: "The scientific advice at the moment is that face coverings isn’t necessary [in schools].
"We know the risk both of children catching the infection and transmission, primary and nursery, is very very low.
"It's still low for secondary school aged children, but there may be some children who feel more comfortable with a mask on.
"So I don't rule it out. I don’t think it’s something that should be a blanket introduction as yet unless the scientific advice is to do so.
"But if it means schools stay open and people have confidence, I wouldn’t want to rule it out either."
Boris Johnson has repeatedly vowed that all pupils will return to their education – after some have had nearly six months at home.
One secondary school in Cheshire is asking all its older pupils to cover up when they return next month.
Holmes Chapel Comprehensive in Cheshire has become the first school to make the protective masks compulsory for pupils.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said the guidance remains that secondary school pupils will not have to wear face coverings in school.
He told Radio 4 this morning:"Within a school, of course, you're not with people that you don't meet normally, you see these same children every day, so there are different circumstances – when you're on public transport for example, when you're encountering people you've not come across or met before.
"And that is why you have different rules and things like face coverings for public transport and being in shops from where you are with the same people in the same bubble day in and day out.
"And that is why the rules are different."
It came as Labour's Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashwroth said they "should be considered" – in contradiction to his party's own policy.
Just last week Labour's Shadow Education spokesperson Kate Green said her party followed the scientific advice on the matter, which is that they are not needed.
The Shadow Health Secretary said face coverings for older children in schools "should be considered".
Mr Ashworth said Labour would accept "tough decisions" to make sure children can get back to school in England as planned.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Ashworth added: "I think what we really need to see now is the testing and tracing regime radically improved.
"We think that getting children back into school has to be an absolute national priority, they have to be back into school safely and we need to use these next four weeks of August to get really on top of these infections, to drive them down by improving testing and tracing."
Labour would accept some trade offs to get kids back in schools, he said.
However, Professor Neil Ferguson warned today that opening schools again would cause the R rate to shoot up by as much as 0.5 – and secndary schools may have to go back part-time.
He also warned that the evidence showed that teenagers transmit the virus as much as adults do.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have a lot of evidence now that primary schools, young children, pose very little risk of transmission.
"I think the concern is with secondary schools, teenagers, further education colleges and universities where the evidence is still not certain, but it looks like older teenagers can transmit just as well as adults…
"That poses a real risk of amplification of transmission, of case numbers going up quite sharply."
There will have to be "some tightening up" of restrictions if opening schools raises the 'R' number, he added.
"Whether, in high schools, FE colleges, it is necessary for children to go back 100% or whether we can have other alternative means of provision, children being in one week and out the other week, therefore reducing contacts in school and outside school, or whether we row back on the relaxation of restrictions in the rest of society to allow schools to be fully opened, for instance social venues, leisure venues, more working from home – those things."
Schools minister Nick Gibb said today that all children would return to classrooms next month – including those in the areas experiencing a partial lockdown in Greater Manchester, and parts of West Yorksire and East Lancashire.
Asked whether the Government would consider closing pubs and restaurants to ensure all children can return to school safely in September, Mr Gibb replied: "Our priority is to make sure that children are back in school with their friends."
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