Coronavirus latest news: Children should not be excluded for failing to wear masks, says minister, as schools reopen

Schools are reopening in England today - Bloomberg
Schools are reopening in England today - Bloomberg  
  • Unions threaten school closures if too many pupils fail to wear masks

  • UK must prepare for 'hard winter', health expert warns

  • Financial scams have become hidden 'epidemic'

  • Working mothers bearing brunt of mental health problems

"Nobody should be denied an education if they don't wear a mask," minister for children Vicky Ford has said as schools return in England today in the first step of lockdown easing.

As pupils across the country return to school for the first time in at least two months, the question of whether masks should be compulsory for pupils is still contested among experts and ministers.

Mr Ford told Sky News: "The vast majority of teenagers...they want to do everything they can to protect themselves from the virus...and they understand that the masks that have been recommended by the medical officers are a way to help to do that."

She added: "But some are exempt from wearing masks, some may be very anxious about wearing masks, but I really would encourage them to do so."

When asked why she has not made mask-wearing compulsory in schools, Ms Ford replied that she has followed "the medical advice we had," which was just to "strongly encourage them."

Ms Ford added that the mask policy in schools will be reviewed at Easter.

Sage member, Professor Calum Semple, said schools were "absolutely" safe for children and it was safe for schools to go back.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

08:48 AM

Schools reopen as lockdown is eased

Pupils will return to schools and loved ones will be able to visit care home residents in person as part of the first phase of lockdown easing in England.

As well as pupils returning to classrooms today for the first time in at least two months, the rules around meeting with a person from another household outdoors will be loosened to permit recreation and not just exercise.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there were dangers involved in keeping classrooms shut for too long when asked about the risks of schools returning.

He said on Sunday: "I think the risk is actually in not going back to school tomorrow given all the suffering, all the loss of learning we have seen.

"I do think we are ready, I think people want to go back, they feel it, they feel the need for it."

His comments came as new research suggests children's mental health was negatively affected by school closures last year.

Experts say they found a "significant rise in emotional and behavioural difficulties" among primary school pupils after the spring and summer school closures in 2020.

The study was led by researchers at the Universities of Essex, Surrey and Birmingham and was funded by the Nuffield Foundation charitable trust.

08:44 AM

Mask-wearing in schools not mandatory, but 'strongly encouraged'

Children's minister Vicky Ford said secondary school students should be "strongly encouraged" to wear masks, but their use is not mandatory.

Asked whether schools where there is not much mask-wearing should close, she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "No, I think that we should strongly encourage them to wear the masks, I think the vast majority of young people, they get this.

"But there will be some who will be very anxious and nervous about doing so and that's why we understand that and that is why we have not made it mandatory but we have strongly encouraged this."

She added that a child who tests positive for coronavirus with a lateral flow test but subsequently receives a negative PCR result should not return to school.

"They should not take the risk, we all want to make sure we can keep Covid out of the classrooms here," she said.

08:14 AM

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the 1% pay rise offer to NHS staff is all the government can manage.

08:10 AM

Rise of cases with school return 'inevitable'

Professor Calum Semple said it was "inevitable that we will see a rise in cases" as schools go back, but it was not so important if the reproduction number (the R) rose slightly.

He said it was more about "the absolute number of cases going to hospital and needing intensive care".

The advice for teachers "is going to be wearing face masks, being really careful in the common room - their colleagues are more of a risk to them than the children," he told BBC Breakfast.

He said society needed to learn how to live with the virus, adding: "It's going to be difficult and it is going to mean some social distancing and face mask-wearing, good ventilation until really late summer when we've got the vast majority people vaccinated."

Students Ellie Fisher (left) and Beth Hicks (right) take Coronavirus lateral flow tests at Outwood Academy Adwick - Danny Lawson/PA
Students Ellie Fisher (left) and Beth Hicks (right) take Coronavirus lateral flow tests at Outwood Academy Adwick - Danny Lawson/PA  

08:03 AM

Sage member says schools are 'absolutely' safe for children

Professor Calum Semple, from the University of Liverpool and a member of Sage, said schools were "absolutely" safe for children and it was safe for schools to go back.

"The subtle question about transmission and teachers, and bringing it home, well the school infection survey is showing that primary school children are half as likely to have had it and probably half as likely to transmit it," he told BBC Breakfast.

"Secondary school children (are) slightly less protected because as they become adolescents they effectively have the biology of an adult, but even there, they're half to a quarter as likely to have had it and transmit it.

"So the main driver is not the pupil-teacher relationship.

"When we talk about schools, it is the fact that the school brings adults together, whether that's teaching staff, the domestic staff, the catering staff, and it's an opportunity for mixing."

He said the issue was down to "the fact that schools are a place of work".

07:44 AM

Mayor of London announces more transport services for school reopening

Sadiq Khan says that more public transport has been laid on in the capital today to ensure "everyone can travel safely" as pupils return to school on Monday, March 8.

07:15 AM

Today's Front Page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Monday, March 8.

Telegraph front page March 8
Telegraph front page March 8  

07:09 AM

Labour calls for school breakfast club to help pupils catch up

To help children recover from 109 days of lost face-to-face learning, Labour is calling for catch-up breakfast clubs before school to help make up for lost time.

The push comes as leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow education secretary Kate Green prepare to kick-start a "Bright Future Taskforce" on Monday during a visit to a school in Dagenham, east London.

According to the party, the taskforce will deliver a long-term strategy for children's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Marking the day that schools reopen fully in England, Labour said its analysis of Government data indicated that children have each lost an average of 109 face-to-face school days since the first lockdown in March 2020.

The party said breakfast clubs would allow children extra time to socialise, while also giving schools additional learning periods to provide targeted tuition or catch-up support.

06:37 AM

South Korea finds no links between vaccine and deaths

South Korea said on Monday it had found no link between the coronavirus vaccine and several recent deaths, as it ordered nearly 100,000 foreign workers to be tested after clusters emerged in dormitories.

Health officials had been investigating the deaths of eight people with underlying conditions who had adverse reactions after receiving AstraZeneca's vaccine, but said they found no evidence that the shots played a role.

"We've tentatively concluded that it was difficult to establish any link between their adverse reaction after being vaccinated, and their deaths," Korea Disease Control and Prevention AgencyDirector Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing.

06:12 AM

Business leaders warn Sturgeon of economic firestorm

Scotland's business leaders have pleaded with Nicola Sturgeon to start paying more attention to the economic devastation wrought by the Covid pandemic as she renewed her demands for a second independence referendum.

Speaking ahead of the First Minister's statement on Tuesday on easing lockdown, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce argued the success of the UK's vaccination programme meant she could allow firms to reopen more quickly.

Tim Allan, the business group's president, warned Ms Sturgeon she needs to put out "a fire raging through this country which has burnt up many small businesses."

Read the full story

05:46 AM

Daily deaths fall below 100 for first time since October

The UK's daily Covid-19 death toll fell below 100 on Sunday for the first time since October 9.

A further 82 people have died within 28 days of a Covid-19 test, marking the first time in the second wave that fewer than 100 people have died in a day, according to the government's official statistics.

While the case and death data published on Sunday tends to be lower than during the week due to a lag in processing figures, the fall in deaths is an encouraging sign that both the vaccine programme and lockdown are sending the virus into retreat.

Read the full story

05:08 AM

Japan's inoculation campaign hampered by syringe shortage

Japan's Covid-19 inoculation campaign is moving at a glacial pace, hampered by a lack of supply and a shortage of speciality syringes that underscore the enormous challenge it faces in its aim to vaccinate every adult by the year's end.

Since the campaign began three weeks ago, just under 46,500 doses had been administered to frontline medical workers as of Friday.

At the current rate, it would take 126 years to vaccinate Japan's population of 126 million. Supplies are, however, expected to increase in the coming months.

By contrast, South Korea, which began its vaccinations a week later than Japan, had administered nearly seven times more shots as of Sunday.

04:57 AM

Vietnam launches vaccination programme

Vietnam launched its vaccination programme on Monday with healthcare workers first in the queue, even as the Southeast Asian country looked set to contain its fourth outbreak of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

Vietnam has been lauded globally for its record fighting the virus. Thanks to early border closures, targeted testing, and a strict, centralised quarantine programme, Vietnam has suffered fewer disruptions to its economy than much of Asia.

Vietnam has kept the total number of infections in the country of 96 million at around 2,500 and reported just 35 deaths. It crushed a first wave of cases in February last year, and a larger cluster detected among foreign tourists in April.

A health worker receives the AstraZeneca vaccine at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi - AFP
A health worker receives the AstraZeneca vaccine at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi - AFP  

03:07 AM

NZ buying enough Pfizer vaccines for entire population

New Zealand will buy additional Covid-19 vaccines, developed by Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech, which will be enough to vaccinate the whole country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

The government has signed an agreement to buy an extra 8.5 million doses, enough to vaccinate over 4 million people, Ms Ardern said, adding the vaccines were expected to reach the country in the second half of the year.

"This brings our total Pfizer order to 10 million doses or enough for 5 million people to get the two shots needed to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19," Ms Ardern said in a statement.

12:02 AM

Today's top stories

  • Unions have warned parents that schools could close if not enough pupils wear face masks, raising the spectre that the long awaited return to classrooms could be short lived.

  • Britain should prepare itself for a "hard winter" with the threat of Covid-19 and a flu surge still a possibility, a Public Health England official has said.

  • Financial scams are an "epidemic within the pandemic", a former investigator has warned, as the number of victims falling for fraudsters impersonating the likes of HMRC, the NHS and Royal Mail doubled last year.

  • Working mothers have been left feeling burned out, exhausted and with deteriorating mental health during the pandemic, exclusive research commissioned by The Telegraph has found.

  • Boris Johnson on Sunday opened the door to rethinking his 1 per cent pay rise for NHS workers by noting it will not be finalised until an independent review body reports back.

  • Longer school days and shorter holidays have not been ruled out, the Education Secretary has said, despite warnings that it could backfire.

  • Boris Johnson has hailed the "joy and relief" that Monday's easing of lockdown will bring families as he confirmed a grandparent will be able to see young grandchildren under the new rules.


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