SECONDARY students should wear masks in classrooms to stop coronavirus spreading in the new lockdown, Sage adviser Sir Jeremy Farrar has said.
Ministers have warned against forcing kids to cover up in schools because it could threaten their learning – but it comes as another Government scientist has predicted a longer shutdown if children stay in class.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
Sir Jeremy told BBC One yesterday that face masks should be considered in classrooms after they were brought in in high risk areas of Scotland last week.
He said: “Masks can play a role in schools. Ventilation isn’t necessarily very good.
“I do think masks could play a role in secondary schools.
“Secondary schools is where transmission is occurring as well as in the general population.
“Anything we can do to reduce transmission in secondary schools over the next four weeks would go a long way to help get the R [number] below 1 and keep schools open.”
Deputy First Minister for Scotland John Swinney announced last week kids aged 15 and up in high risk areas would have to wear masks in classrooms along with bathrooms, hallways and other communal areas.
England has left the decision up to schools on whether to ask children to wear masks, but ministers have made it very clear wearing them in classrooms can damage their ability to learn effectively.
All schools, including universities, will be allowed to stay open throughout the lockdown from Thursday to December 2.
In a dig at Boris Johnson for not bringing in a lockdown when Sage, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, first called for one last month, Sir Jeremy said it “would have been possible” to keep schools open then but “it is a question now”.
He said: “Because we have delayed the onset of this lockdown, it does make keeping schools (open) harder.
“If the transmission in secondary schools continue to rise that may have to be revisited in the next four weeks.”
And another top Government scientist, Professor Andrew Hayward, from UCL, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats group (Nervtag) along with Sage, said the national shutdown would be longer because of the decision to keep schools open.
Professor Hayward told BBC Radio 4: “I think if we had chosen a two week circuit break (last month) we would definitely have saved thousands of lives and inflicted substantially less damage to our economy than the proposed four week lockdown.
“It is clear there is substantial transmission within secondary schools and we of course are needing to prioritise education.”
He acknowledged that even when kids do catch the bug they very rarely show severe symptoms.
But he said “one of the consequences of not closing secondary schools would be that we may be in lockdown for longer.”
Professor Hayward stressed it was a “trade off” between education and other parts of the economy.
The militant National Education Union, says 150,000 teachers have signed a petition demanding schools are closed.
Kevin Courtney, NEU Joint General Secretary, urged the Government to act, branding schools “an engine for virus transmission”.
He said: “The Government should include all schools in proposals for an immediate national lockdown.”
And Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham says he wants schools closed in the North West to avoid harsher restrictions at Christmas.
Mr Burnham claimed Mr Johnson’s national shutdown and reintroduction of stay at home orders was a “halfway house” lockdown.
He said England needed a “proper” circuit breaker lockdown with schools shut to save Christmas.
But even the Labour party are backing the Government’s decision to keep kids in class because of the huge damage it can cause to children.
Over the weekend, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove suggested the Government wanted to keep pupils in classrooms even if the lockdown was extended.
Today, Mr Johnson slammed those who tried to send kids back to learn from home, saying there was a “moral duty” to stop the coronavirus crisis “damage our children’s futures”.
Both headteachers and business bosses have slammed hard-left unions for trying to close schools in the lockdown.
But CBI chief Carolyn Fairbairn said the only way to avoid economic meltdown is to keep kids in school so their parents can go to work.
She fumed: “We have to keep schools open – not just for the sake of our children. That is massively important.
“But for the sake of our economy, it enables people to work.”
And the moderate union bosses at the National Association of Headteachers also warned of the dangers of another national school shutdown.
General Secretary Paul Whiteman said: “It is right to prioritise keeping children in school but we need more transparency on the risks to school staff.”
Multiple studies have shown kids are much less likely to transmit coronavirus.
But teens are at a greater risk of catching and passing on the virus.
And university students have been forced to suffer through self-isolation in halls because of Covid-19 running rampant through campus accomodation.