Scotland considers face coverings in schools after Covid outbreaks but England resists

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt

The Scottish Government is considering whether to enforce face coverings for pupils and teachers in some school settings, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.

The World Health Organisation is advising that children aged 12 and above should wear face coverings, but Ms Sturgeon said her government is considering new rules which "would go beyond" the WHO guidance.

The WHO advice, which was updated over the weekend, came amid a handful of coronavirus outbreaks in Scottish schools.

Kingspark School in Dundee was forced to close last week after six adults tested positive for Covid-19, but a further spike was announced on Sunday revealing a number of children had also contracted it, along with more than a dozen staff members.

In total, two pupils, 17 members of staff and three community contacts have now tested positive for Covid-19.

ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt discusses what is happening with schools in England

At least three more education hubs in Scotland have experienced outbreaks since schools there were told to reopen from August 11.

Ms Sturgeon said Scotland's Education Secretary John Swinney is "working on a recommendation for staff and pupils in secondary schools to wear face coverings when they are moving around in corridors and communal areas".

Nicola Sturgeon ordered schools in Scotland to reopen from August 11. Credit: PA

She said he was considering whether to make them compulsory in places where "mixing is more likely", such as corridors and communal areas.

"Close contact in these areas is more likely and voices could be raised resulting in greater chances for aerosol transmission.

"And finally, there is often less scope for effective ventilation in these areas."

Despite the potential move by Scotland, the central government in Westminster is resisting pressure to adopt the WHO advice.

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Asked about comments by First Minister Sturgeon's comments, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “We are not in a position where we are suggesting that.

“We believe there is a system of controls there in place in all schools for children to be able to return safely and for staff to be able to operate safely within those schools.”

A Number 10 spokesman said: “There are no plans to review the guidance on face coverings in schools.

“We are conscious of the fact that it would obstruct communication between teachers and pupils.”

Kingspark School is just one of a handful of centres Scotland which have recorded positive cases since Scottish students started returning to schools on August 11.

A single positive case has been linked to the primary 2A class at St Peter and Paul’s School in the city, and a positive case has been linked to Happy Times out-of-school club at Downfield Primary School.

NHS Tayside and Dundee City Council released a statement saying all pupils in the affected school class had been asked to self isolate for 14 days, along with all those who attended the out-of-school club.

Meanwhile, a member of staff and two pupils at High Blantyre Primary School have tested positive for Covid-19.

NHS Lanarkshire said adults and children connected to primary three or primary four had been asked not to attend class.

The outbreaks will be of concerns to parents in England who are just one week away from sending their children back to school, many for the first time in five months.

The spike appears to contradict messaging from the prime minister, who on Monday morning posted a video on Twitter claiming the risk was "very, very, very small" that children would catch the virus while at school.

Boris Johnson conceded that "parents are genuinely still a bit worried about their children contracting coronavirus" but insisted "schools are safe".

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries reiterated his message that "younger children they're less likely to get it".

On coronavirus in schools, the PM said "the risks are very, very, very small that they’ll even get it, but then the risk that they’ll suffer from it badly are very, very, very, very small indeed".

Ms Harries said that Covid was generally a "mild disease for children."

"We think that maybe for younger children they're less likely to get it and we know that they are much less likely to be hospitalised and very, very unlikely to die from the disease. So the balance is very much in favour of going to school."

Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney said there’s been “very limited prevalence” of Covid-19 in the early days of pupils returning to classrooms in the country.

On the BBC’s World at One programme, Mr Swinney was asked about Kingspark school in Dundee where 17 staff have tested positive for coronavirus.

Mr Swinney said: “I think it’s important to indicate that this issue is being taken very, very seriously by our incident management team on the ground.

“There has been extensive testing undertaken and contact tracing as there should be in any example of a positive case emerging. So that issue is being taken seriously in that school.

“I think it’s also important to recognise that this is one of two-and-a-half thousand schools that are open across Scotland.

“And over the course of the last couple of weeks in which schools have been opened, we’ve had some limited examples of the presence of Covid within schools and that’s to be welcomed, the fact that it’s been a very limited prevalence of Covid in our schools in these early days.”

Dr Ellie Hothersall, consultant in public health medicine with NHS Tayside, acknowledged the outbreak "may cause anxiety to some parents and children" but said advice had been issued to keep everyone safe.

The smaller outbreaks at other schools in Dundee were identified following "detailed contact tracing", NHS Tayside said.

Kingspark School is expected to remain closed until at least next week while a deep clean is carried out.