Opening windows ‘much more effective’ than face masks in primary school

Ventilation and open windows are more important than face masks, a key scientist has said (Picture: Getty Images)

Schools have been urged to improve ventilation to reduce the spread of coronavirus, as a key Government scientists said he was ‘not a fan’ of asking young children to wear face coverings.

Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said keeping windows open and improving ventilation in schools is ‘much more effective’ at reducing Covid-19 transmission in primary schools than masks.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there are better strategies for managing the virus than asking youngsters to cover their noses and mouths.

It comes after some schools – including Selsdon Primary School in Croydon, south London – said pupils must wear face coverings at all times, except during sports lessons or when eating or drinking. The Government says masks should be worn, but are not compulsory.

A statement from the school explained: ‘This decision was solely based on keeping our staff, pupils and their families safe in the current situation.’

Secondary school pupils are required to wear face masks where social distancing is not possible when schools returns.

But the Department for Education has now clarified that it does not believe primary school children should be asked to wear masks.

Some young children may struggle to wear face masks properly, unlike this boy at a primary school in Slovenia (Picture: SOPA Images)

He added: ‘If I had to invest in a single activity to improve the environment both for the children and the adults, I’d be looking at improving the ventilation, unsealing windows that have been painted shut and kept shut for energy-saving reasons … improving air exchanges.

‘That would be a much more effective way to reduce transmission in schools.’

Professor Semple, who was speaking in a personal capacity, said: ‘Primary school children are the lowest risk both to themselves and to society.

‘There is really good data coming out … that shows that children are half as likely to acquire the virus to a third as likely to acquire the virus.

‘When it comes to transmitting, they are probably half as likely to transmit it as adults. That risk actually gets smaller as you go into younger age groups.

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‘So I am not a great fan of young children wearing face masks.’

During the pandemic, there has been a lot of focus on washing hands and surfaces, but researchers have long warned about the airborne threat of the virus, leading them to encourage good ventilation and avoiding indoor activities where possible.

Professor Semple also noted that young children will find it difficult to wear the masks properly.

Asked about the risk to teachers, the Sage scientist said the data shows that teachers going to school ‘as a workplace are no more at risk than people in general society going about their daily living and normal working environment’.

It comes as teachers were again ignored in the latest guidance on who should be vaccinated next.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Children in primary schools should not be asked to wear face coverings when they return to school from March 8.

‘Our guidance is clear – face coverings are only necessary for pupils in year 7 and above.’

The department’s guidance states that ‘no pupil should be denied education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering’.

It also says lateral flow testing is ‘voluntary’ and ‘schools will have discretion on how to test students over that week as they return to the classroom’.

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