Secondary school students could soon find themselves no longer required to wear face coverings.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said the government plans to lift the requirement for pupils in England as part of the third step of its roadmap out of lockdown.
This would mean no earlier than 17 May.
Mr Williamson told the Telegraph: “As infection rates continue to decline and our vaccination programme rolls out successfully, we plan to remove the requirement for face coverings in the classroom at step three of the roadmap.
“Removing face masks will hugely improve interactions between teachers and students, while all other school safety measures will remain in place to help keep the virus out of classrooms.”
But the move is not popular with a group of teaching unions and scientists, who have written to Mr Williamson calling for the rule to remain until at least 21 June.
Their letter warned that an estimated 43,000 children and 114,000 school staff are thought to be suffering from long COVID, where the symptoms of coronavirus last for many months after the initial infection is over.
The letter said: “To strip these necessary protections, when there are already too few mitigation measures in schools, and when rates of COVID-19 are still significant, would have consequences for the health of our children and their parents as well as their communities.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “As infection rates continue to decline and our vaccination programme rolls out successfully, we plan to remove the requirement for face coverings in the classroom in line with step three of the roadmap.
“Virus transmission in schools continues to drop, with the latest data showing a significant decrease in students and staff testing positive and cases isolated quickly thanks to our twice-weekly rapid testing programme.”
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