English school children to wear masks to tackle Omicron surge

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Children in secondary schools in England will be told to wear face coverings when they return after the Christmas holiday next week to tackle a surge in cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday.

“We want to maximise the number of children in school and college for the maximum amount of time,” he said in an article in the Sunday Telegraph. 

“One of the additional, temporary measures that will help achieve this in light of the omicron surge is recommending face coverings are worn in secondary school classrooms and teaching spaces for the coming weeks – although not for longer than they are needed.”

England was the only one of the four UK nations where face coverings were not previously recommended in the classroom.

With daily infection numbers at record highs and people who test positive required to isolate for at least seven days, schools and other public services are facing disruption from staff shortages.

The government has asked public sector managers to prepare for a worst-case scenario of 25% of staff absent in the weeks ahead.

On Saturday, England reported a record high daily total of 162,572 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, up from 160,276 the previous day, official data showed.

The daily update also showed 154 new deaths from the virus in England within 28 days of a positive test, down from 178 on Friday.

The data normally also includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but did not on Saturday because of differences in reporting schedules over the New Year weekend.

The daily number of confirmed infections across the United Kingdom repeatedly broke records in December as the Omicron variant spread rapidly. However, hospitalisations and deaths have remained at lower levels than during previous waves.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all introduced restrictions such as nightclub closures, social distancing rules in pubs and limits on the number of people allowed to gather.

But England, which accounts for more than 80% of the UK population, has not brought in any restrictions. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said any new curbs would only be introduced as an “absolute last resort”.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Gareth Jones)

Photo  Covid stewards outside Stamford Bridge ahead of the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC in London, Britain, 02 January 2022. EPA-EFE/VICKIE FLORE

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