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Government advice to teachers changes as face coverings ‘made mandatory in virus hotspots’

MASKS are to be made compulsory in communal areas of secondary schools in coronavirus hotspots such as Greater Manchester, the government announced last night.

Schools in other parts of the country will also be given discretion to introduce their own rules — a change from previous guidance which advised against the use of face coverings for pupils.

The U-turn comes after Boris Johnson said that the government would ‘look at the changing medical evidence as we go on’. The prime minister added: ‘If we need to change the advice, then of course we will.’

Dozens of schools have decided to provide face coverings, even though initial advice from No.10 was that masks could hinder communication and have little health benefit.

The Scottish government has confirmed that secondary school pupils will be required to wear face coverings between lessons from Monday.

London mayor Sadiq Khan is also said to be ‘moving towards’ schools in the capital adopting masks, while the Welsh government is set to make an announcement today.

Public Health England and the Department for Education have reportedly both agreed on the policy.

Asked why ministers were ignoring World Health Organization advice that children over 12 should wear masks, Mr Johnson said: ‘The overwhelming priority is to get all pupils into school.’

He added: ‘The risk to children’s health from not being in school is far greater than the risk from Covid.

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

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: ‘As things currently stand in England, the NEU believes it should be permissible for staff members and students to wear face masks if they wish.’

DEATHS have been above average for the first time since mid-June but this month’s heatwave, not coronavirus, is thought to be behind the rise. England and Wales saw 9,392 fatalities in the week ending August 14 — 447 more than the week before and 3.4 per cent above average, said the Office for National Statistics. There were 139 Covid-19 deaths, an 8.6 per cent fall from the previous week and the lowest toll since March.