By Bill Heaney
Scottish secondary school pupils – and people attending courts and tribunals – will have to wear face coverings in corridors, communal areas and school buses from next Monday.
Education Secretary John Swinney said the new rules would apply to all secondary pupils aged over 12.
He said the guidance had been updated based on new advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
There will no requirement to wear face coverings in classrooms where social distancing measures are in place.
Mr Swinney said individual exemptions could be granted for health reasons, but the guidance would be “obligatory” for all secondary, special and grant-aided schools.
He told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “From August 31st young people over the age of 12 in secondary schools should habitually be wearing face coverings when they are moving around schools and corridors and in communal areas where it is difficult to deliver the physical distancing.”
Mr Swinney said the Scottish government had acted in the light of the new WHO advice based on evidence that teenagers can infect others in the same way as adults, but had decided to go further by extending it to school transport.
“It’s part of the general measures we are taking to ensure we keep pace with the emerging advice about how to keep our schools open and to keep our schools safe,” he said.
Professor Linda Bauld, FM Nicola Sturgeon and Dep. FM John Swinney.
Young people returned to Scotland’s schools earlier in August with no requirements for physical distancing between younger pupils, and no rules around face coverings.
But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon signalled on Monday that a change in the guidance was imminent.
The new rules for school buses will apply to pupils over the age of five, in line with guidelines for public transport. Staff and students can continue to wear face coverings in all settings voluntarily if they wish.
Eileen Prior, executive director of the parents’ organisation Connect, formerly known as the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said she hoped schools would be offered some flexibility over how the new guidance was implemented.
She said: “In some schools it won’t be necessary – it depends very much on the environment within a school.
“Some schools are incredibly crowded but some simply aren’t and some are well below capacity, perhaps with wide corridors and they don’t have the issue that we have in many high schools of young people just crowding because they just can’t not crowd.”
There was no mention of how some pupils were being bullied into not wearing masks or vandalism in schools where sanitizing equipment had been deliberately broken and stolen.
But Mr Swinney said while the new rules were not mandatory, they had the same status as other guidance on reopening of schools, such as physical distancing and hand hygiene, and should be considered “obligatory” across the secondary sector.
“There will be exemptions from this because the wearing of face coverings is not suitable for all individuals and that has to be respected,” he said.
He also stressed that an individual pupil should not be excluded from a school because they were not wearing a face covering.
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said the revised guidance in Scotland was a sensible move.
She said: “The schools have done brilliantly well getting going again but I think their physical distancing in some of the communal areas is always going to be a bit of a challenge to enforce…
“When we’ve still got cases circulating in the community this will provide additional protection when it’s difficult to physically distance.”
She said there may be more work to do to educate young people about the correct way to put on or remove a face covering.
“Not touching the surface – taking it off around the ears. I would recommend young people might carry a little bag in their pocket, stick the face covering in there and when they’re taking it off and when they’re putting it back on, making sure they don’t touch the front of it,” she said.
Professor Bauld added: “And then of course there’s the cleaning issue – these coverings need to be washed, just in warm water and soap.”
The interim chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, said the education advisory group had considered carefully whether poor hygiene while using masks might spread the virus.
“In their consideration they looked at the evidence from infection from removing masks, on and off, and whether that was likely to play a significant component in terms of introducing an increased risk of transmission,” he said.
“On balance, their assessment of that evidence was that there was insufficient evidence to support that view.”
Meanwhile, it has emerged that people attending court will be asked to wear a face covering in the building.
The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) said the advice will apply from Monday 31 August.
Meanwhile, court buildings are already subject to a range of measures aimed at reducing the risk of infection from coronavirus.
Chief executive of the SCTS, Eric McQueen, said: “In order to reduce the risk of infection spread, we are strongly advising all users and visitors to our buildings, to wear a face covering to protect themselves and others.
“This will help us minimise the risk for those who are required to attend court or tribunal hearings.”
He added that the new advice does not replace the requirement for physical distancing to be maintained.
Members of the public are still not allowed to attend court or tribunal buildings unless they are directly participating in proceedings.
The SCTS said face coverings can be removed within the courtroom or hearing room, and a judge may request the removal of a face mask during the course of court or tribunal business.
- First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave her daily briefing on three TV channels at lunchtime today – Sky Television, BBC Scotland and the local BBC Scotland channel. Her message was clear and concise about safety. What she will have to hope now is that the public responds well to the measures to keep everyone safe. It was noticeable that Health Minister Jeane Freeman who announced her retirement yesterday was not present at the briefing. Editor