Local public health chiefs have more powers to require face coverings in schools when there is a major outbreak in the community
Changes to Whitehall’s contingency plans mean that regional public health directors no longer need central government permission to apply for face covers in schools, so they can be more agile in the event of a major outbreak in their local community.
Local public health chiefs have been given more powers to tell teenage students to wear face masks in schools as a sign that the government is preparing its preparations for a new winter surge in Covid-19.
Public health officials may require students and secondary school staff to hide themselves in common areas such as canteens and assembly halls without Whitehall’s consent.
In the event of a serious increase in local cases where officials are required to mandate an “extended response area”, students could also be asked to wear face masks in classrooms.
The changes respond to concerns that, despite booster vaccinations and the introduction of vaccinations above 12, cases in the UK could resume and be further fueled by high transmission across the continent.
Boris Johnson is not yet ready to impose Plan B measures – which would include mandatory face masks for everyone in indoor public spaces and instructions to work from home – but earlier this week he was able to introduce new restrictions this winter, including one Blocking over Christmas, not excluded.
The Prime Minister warned “storm clouds” of a fourth wave of Covid-19 over Europe that threatened to affect the UK’s response to the pandemic and urged people to come up for their booster jab.
Downing Street also has concerns about what is known as the Child of Delta subline, AY.4.2, which now accounts for 15 percent of the new cases in the UK and is more contagious than the original Delta strain, although the vaccines are no less effective.
Over the past few weeks, the government has gradually stepped up preparations for a winter increase and stood before Plan B.
The measures – mainly Plan A Plus – include the expansion of the booster to all over 40-year-olds and the recommendation of a second dose for 16- and 17-year-olds as well as a prominent health campaign on the subject of ventilation.
The additional powers for the local health authorities would also apply to youth clubs and after-school clubs.
Officials are asked to step up efforts to increase lateral flow tests and vaccinations if there is a local spike in cases.
The new emergency framework directive states: “Face coverings in common areas may be temporarily advised by the DsPH” [directors of public health]: for an individual setting within the scope of your responsibilities in outbreak management; for facilities in areas with high or rapidly increasing prevalence where enhanced LFD testing and measures to increase vaccination of eligible staff, schoolchildren and students are also recommended.
“Face coverings in classrooms can be temporarily recommended by DsPH: for an individual setting as part of your responsibility in outbreak management; For cross-departmental settings that have been offered an extended response package or that are in a permanent transmission area where the settings and DsPH deem it appropriate.
“In all cases, any educational and health disadvantages in the recommended use of face coverings should be weighed against the benefits in coping with the transmission.”