Face covering requirements are to be reintroduced across all schools in England for pupils in Year 7 and above, it has been reported.
The Department of Education has told all headteachers to make mask-wearing mandatory for secondary pupils and visitors in communal areas, according to Sky News.
The move is believed to be a precaution against the new Omicron variant, which prompted Health Secretary Sajid Javid to announce new measures ensuring people can ‘enjoy Christmas with our families’.
Face coverings will also be compulsory in shops and on public transport in England from Tuesday, while travellers will have to take PCR tests on arriving in the UK.
Meanwhile, adults will be offered booster vaccine shots earlier than anticipated.
Mr Javid said the government could take further action ‘in a proportionate way wherever necessary’ but is ‘nowhere near’ reintroducing social distancing or working-from-home guidance.
It was previously up to local public health chiefs whether schools in each area should require mask-wearing.
They were given the power to do so without approval from Whitehall officials earlier this month in a bid to prepare the country for a fresh surge of Covid cases as vaccine immunity begins to wear off among some people.
The Omicron strain has so far been detected in three people, including two in Essex and Nottinghamshire, respectively, and one who left the country after spending time in central London.
All three have been linked to travel in southern Africa or South Africa, where the variant was first identified.
Scientists believe the strain spreads more rapidly than common variants and may have some resistance to vaccines, although the doctor who discovered it has said played down the risk to public health.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: ‘What we are seeing clinically in South Africa, and remember I’m at the epicentre – that’s where I’m practising – it’s extremely mild. For us, that’s mild cases.’
Asked if the UK was ‘panicking unnecessarily’, she said: ‘I think you already have it there in your country and you’re not knowing it, and I would say, yes, at this stage I would say definitely.’
At a Downing Street news conference, Boris Johnson said the latest measures are ‘temporary and precautionary’ and will be reviewed in three weeks’ time.
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