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Cover up in the school corridor: Northern Ireland's post-primary pupils should wear masks outside class at all times, says Education Minister

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Pupils from Bloomfield Collegiate in Belfast wearing face coverings.

Pupils from Bloomfield Collegiate in Belfast wearing face coverings.

Education Minister Peter Weir is recommending that school children should wear face coverings in corridors

Education Minister Peter Weir is recommending that school children should wear face coverings in corridors

Pupils from Bloomfield Collegiate in Belfast wearing face coverings.

Education Minister Peter Weir has announced that guidance on face coverings will be updated to include a recommendation to wear them in corridors of post-primary schools.

This will come into effect on August 31 when schools return on a full-time basis.

Pupils returning to school in England will not be required to wear face coverings, with Downing Street saying yesterday there were "no plans" to change the guidance.

The World Health Organisation and UN children's agency Unicef advise that children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a one-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.

The Schools Standards Minister in England Nick Gibb had indicated that hygiene measures put in place in classes meant masks were not required.

Mr Gibb told the BBC: "If a school puts in place the measures that are in the guidance that we issued in early July, all the hygiene measures that I've been talking about, then masks are not necessary for staff or pupils."

England's deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said the evidence on whether children over 12 should wear masks in schools was "not strong".

However, older pupils in Scotland will be required to wear face coverings in between lessons from next week.

Face coverings should be worn by staff and pupils when moving around secondary schools in Scotland from August 31, according to Holyrood's Education Secretary.

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Education Minister Peter Weir is recommending that school children should wear face coverings in corridors

Education Minister Peter Weir is recommending that school children should wear face coverings in corridors

Education Minister Peter Weir is recommending that school children should wear face coverings in corridors

John Swinney said that the rule will apply on school transport for primary school pupils aged five and above, and all those at secondary school in communal areas, but not in classrooms.

Previous advice in Northern Ireland had made it mandatory for all pupils aged 13 and over to wear a face covering on public transport, or when large numbers of staff or pupils gathered within an enclosed space where social distancing was not possible.

However, they were "not generally recommended for routine use in schools".

But last night Mr Weir said: "Following further advice which I have received today from the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser, I am recommending that pupils and teachers wear a face covering in corridors and other communal areas of post-primary schools from next week when schools return full-time.

"The current public health advice is that the use of face coverings provides some benefits; however, it is not a replacement for frequent hand washing, social distancing where possible, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and regular cleaning of surfaces.

"It is also important to remember that evidence suggests that the risk of transmission in schools is relatively low compared to some other settings.

"My existing guidance on the reopening of schools already deals with the use of face coverings. In terms of school transport, the advice remains the same, that we strongly recommend that all pupils wear a face covering on all dedicated school transport including buses and taxis where it is appropriate for them to do so.

"In relation to communal areas in schools, the guidance already strongly encourages face coverings for activities that entail large numbers of staff or pupils within an enclosed space where social distancing is not possible.

"Given the risk mitigations in place in schools to limit and contain the spread of Covid-19, face coverings are not recommended as being compulsory for routine use in education settings.

"However, staff and pupils may wish to use them during the routine school day and this is acceptable. Schools should also be aware that some persons (including some children) are exempt from wearing face coverings.

"I will continue to keep all guidance in respect of education settings under review in light of the latest medical and scientific advice."

Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd has said the decision should have been introduced with immediate effect.

The Upper Bann MLA and former Education Minister said: "The safety of children and young people while at school is an absolute priority for everyone.

"New guidance from the World Health Organisation has strongly recommended the need to introduce the wearing of face coverings in secondary schools.

"While the decision to introduce the wearing of face coverings in school corridors, communal areas and school transport is welcome, it should be implemented immediately, not with any delay.

"This latest move by the Minister is yet another example of lack of clear decision-making and guidance which has caused confusion for parents, teachers and students."

Belfast Telegraph