Pupils had to wear masks ‘to avoid row with Sturgeon’
ENGLISH school pupils were ordered to wear face masks in corridors after Boris Johnson was told the issue was ‘not worth an argument’ with Nicola Sturgeon.
The then prime minister went ahead with the controversial policy despite England’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Chris Whitty, saying there were ‘no very strong reasons’ to do so.
Mr Johnson’s administration had decided masks would not be worn in schools and they had been excluded from guidance on mask wearing. But the World Health Organisation recommended on August 21, 2020, that children aged 12 and over should wear masks in situations where they could not maintain social distancing.
Scottish first minister Ms Sturgeon then announced the compulsory wearing of face masks in corridors and communal areas in secondary schools north of the border on August 25.
On the same day, one week before schools in England were due to reopen, Mr Johnson asked for advice on whether they were necessary in England.
Sir Chris appeared ambivalent, leaked messages reveal, writing: ‘No strong reason against in corridors etc, and no very strong reasons for’, adding: ‘So agree not worth an argument.’
Lee Cain, Mr Johnson’s director of communications, questioned why Downing Street would ‘want to have the fight on not having masks in certain school settings’, while Simon Case, the permanent secretary for Covid who was promoted a week later to Cabinet Secretary, said ‘nervous parents will freak out’ if children were wearing masks in Scottish schools but not English ones.
The following day, the Government announced that secondary school children returning to class in September in areas subject to local lockdowns would be required to wear face masks in corridors.
Other messages reveal that more than two million people were asked to shield during the pandemic even though the Government’s top advisers had told the Prime Minister it was not ‘very effective’.
Ministers refused to ditch the ‘rule of six’ for children, despite knowing there was almost no rationale for the policy, the messages reveal.
Downing Street refused to ‘shift an inch’, despite being told there was no ‘robust rationale’ for the measure.
It was kept in place in England until April 2021, more than a year after the start of the pandemic, effectively keeping large households in lockdown. The texts say ministers believed an exemption for children under 12, which was in place in Wales and Scotland, was too difficult to communicate.