Some secondary school students in England will have to wear face coverings in communal areas when new term starts, the UK government announced on Tuesday, a reversal of its previous guidelines.
The new guidance is in line with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest advice on Friday, which says “children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.”
From Sept. 1, “in local lockdown areas children in year 7 and above should wear face coverings in communal spaces,” Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said in a statement.
“Outside of local lockdown areas face coverings won’t be required in schools, though schools will have the flexibility to introduce measures if they believe it is right in their specific circumstances.”
Face coverings will not be required in classrooms, “where protective measures already mean the risks are lower, and where they can inhibit learning,” the government’s announcement says.
Williamson said he hoped “these steps will provide parents, pupils, and teachers with further reassurance.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier that reopening schools in September is a “moral duty” and a “national priority,” and he made a direct appeal to parents to return their children to the classroom when schools reopen next week.
“It’s vitally important that we get our children back into the classroom to learn and to be with their friends,” he said in a statement, as “nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than returning to school.”
On Wednesday, Johnson broadcast live on Twitter a speech to school students in England, calling education the great equalizer, the liberator, and the transformer of society, and said “we must have every pupil back in school” in September.
Alexander Zhang contributed to this report