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Pupils told to wear face masks in school again as local health officials bring in Covid restrictions

·3 min read
Children wearing face masks walking down a corridor at Hounslow Kingsley Academy in West London in March - Kirsty O'Connor/PA
Children wearing face masks walking down a corridor at Hounslow Kingsley Academy in West London in March - Kirsty O'Connor/PA

Thousands of schoolchildren and students will be forced to wear masks again after an alarming rise in Covid cases in Suffolk.

Worried education chiefs have been faced with a steady increase in infections and on Wednesday announced that from the end of the month, students in all 300 primary, secondary and colleges in the county must wear face coverings in communal areas outside the classroom.

Students and staff will also have to cover their faces in communal areas outside the classroom and entry to schools will be restricted to essential visitors only.

Even parents collecting children in the playground will have to wear a mask.

The number of Covid cases among 10-14-year-olds has increased by almost 15 per cent and by 32 per cent among 15-19-year-olds in recent weeks in Suffolk.

It means that so far in October schoolchildren in the county have lost 26,264 days of education after testing positive for Covid-19.

These measures will be reviewed during the week commencing Nov 15.

Stuart Keeble, Suffolk County Council's director of public health, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the virus is "really working its way through that younger population at the moment".

He said: "For me now it is also about trying to keep children in school.

"We have had around 7,300 pupils test positive in the last 28 days. If we can keep transmission rates down, we can also keep more pupils in school as well while the vaccine is being run out for 12 to 15-year-olds."

He said there is a risk if the infection starts to spread to the older population - including parents and grandparents.

Mr Keeble added: "We have started to see that. We have started to see an increase over the last few weeks in that parent age group of those in secondary school."

He explained we are now also seeing an increase in our over-60s and this "is a concern given, there are more vulnerable people in those age groups".

The Government has threatened new Covid restrictions with the Health Secretary warning the public they must "play their part" in order to enjoy Christmas with loved ones.

Sajid Javid said the Government would not implement "Plan B" measures such as mandatory masks, advice to work from home, and vaccine passports "at this point".

But ministers are coming under pressure by health officials to introduce restrictions immediately ahead of the winter and amid the rising case numbers.

Health minister Edward Argar said the original plan for tackling Covid is still working.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What Sajid (Javid, the Health Secretary) has highlighted now is that we are facing a challenging period - winter.

"People are indoors, infection rates are rising, and I think what he's done is levelled early with people, here is what we're seeing, but there are ways you can... the single biggest way you can impact on that and mitigate it is to have the jabs, that's the thing.

"Plan A in that sense, if you want to call it that, is still working. But what he highlighted is it's a race - and I've used this phrase with you, I think, before when I've been on your programme - it is a race between the vaccines, and getting those in people's arms, and the virus.

"We're still winning that race at the moment, but it's narrowing, that lead is narrowing. So what we need to do is that sprint for the line."

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