Schools face mask U-turn welcomed but concerns over home testing kits

Wednesday, August 26th, 2020 4:17pm

By Niall Griffiths, Local Democracy Reporter @niallgriffiths

Andy Burnham has welcomed the government's U-turn on wearing face masks in schools in parts of Greater Manchester under tighter lockdown restrictions.

But the mayor (pictured) has expressed concerns about the number of Covid-19 home testing kits that will be made available for pupils, saying it is ‘nowhere near’ what is needed.

The government announced on Tuesday that it had reviewed its opposition to the introduction of masks in schools after receiving new public health advice.

Under the new guidance, secondary school pupils in areas that are still having to follow extra measures around social mixing will have to wear masks in corridors and communal spaces.

This will be mandatory in schools across Greater Manchester except for Wigan, where headteachers will have the final say after restrictions were relaxed there.

Stockport and Bolton could follow suit after it was announced that regional leaders would be making the case for the government to lift the measures in their areas.

Mr Burnham said: “I’m not sure we got to this position in the right way but the government is probably right to say that we need to see wearing of face masks in corridors where there are local restrictions.

“If the government agrees [to ease restrictions in Stockport and Bolton] it will apply in seven of our boroughs.

“Beyond that it should be up to the headteacher to decide but I would err on the side of encouraging students to wear them rather than not given the challenges that we’re going to have living with this virus into the autumn and winter.”

The government also announced that schools will only receive 10 coronavirus testing kits and that they should only be used in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

This has added to growing concerns amongst public health chiefs in Greater Manchester about the supply of home testing kits following reports of a national shortage.

Mr Burnham said putting more kits in the hands of councils and schools will improve the national test and trace system, which he has repeatedly said is not good enough.

He added: “This is an issue that is coming through loud and clear, the number that’s been given to our councils is nowhere near what’s needed.”

As well as receiving the home testing kits schools will also receive a small supply of free personal protective equipment, including face masks, aprons, gloves, visors and hand sanitiser.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said the government was delivering on prime minister Boris Johnson’s ‘national priority’ to get schoolchildren back in the classroom.

In a statement Mr Gibb said: “This week schools and colleges will begin to receive their first home testing kits as well as personal protective equipment to use in the very rare situations in which it may be required.

“I have seen first hand the protective measures schools have put in place ahead of pupils returning, and the lengths they have gone to so that their pupils and staff are as safe as possible.”

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