Why Face Masks Won’t Change Anything for Children in the UK

Following a summer of terrible U-turns for the Conservative Government’s education policy in England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has abandoned advice that pupils should not wear face masks in English secondary schools.

Face coverings will be compulsory in communal areas and corridors for children in towns and cities that are subject to stricter COVID-19 restrictions.

The Government will drop guidance that they should not be used in other parts of England, but headteachers will retain discretion over the use of face masks in those areas.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson defended the partial U-turn by saying that the Government was listening to a change in advice from the World Health Organization.

Closing Schools Was a Fundamental Error

The British Government has made a fundamental error in closing schools during the lockdown for many reasons. WIRED reported on survey data collected by the Sutton Trust and Teaching Tapp, a teacher polling app, which discovered that private school students in the UK were twice as likely as state school pupils to be accessing online lessons every day. Working class students spent less of their time during lockdown studying. This shows that the Government’s decision to close schools during the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the life chances of many pupils, as shown by the furor caused by the A-Level debacle over the summer.

Furthermore, if face coverings were so effective at preventing the coronavirus from spreading, why did the Government fail to advise that secondary pupils should wear them from the beginning? Many of them could have continued with their education without facing unnecessary disruption.

The Swedish Approach to Education Was the Right One

Swedish schools were provided with the option to close during the height of the pandemic and they implemented many common sense measures to prevent rapid school closures. Many sick staff members and students remained at home and schools promoted the benefits of hand hygiene. Most schools remained open. In hindsight, the British Government should have adopted Sweden’s approach to education as COVID-19 brought the world to a halt.

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s leading epidemiologist, said that there is no point in Swedish citizens following the World Health Organization’s advice, which is to wear face masks when social distancing is not possible, and he is right to make that point.

The Lockdown’s Long-Term Effects Will be Far More Damaging

Although a study conducted by Cambridge and Greenwich universities found that face masks would thwart a second wave of coronavirus for 18 months, in 2015 MacIntyre et al compared medical masks to cloth masks. They found that cloth masks are ineffective and can put people at a greater risk of catching a virus. Moisture retention, reuse of cloth masks and poor filtration may result in an increased risk of infection. The British Government has based its decision on flaky science and the science seems to suggest that students 16 or under are unlikely to spread the virus anyway.

Authors of a study led by Public Health England said that they have found further proof that children have a limited role in spreading the coronavirus. It found that children accounted for 1.1 percent of all cases of coronavirus, when considered in light of positive cases for COVID-19 among all age groups. Considering there is ample evidence that face masks make a difference, it is unwise to force a segment of the population to wear them at school if children are at low risk of spreading the virus.

Johnson’s Government Took the Wrong Path

It is unlikely that voters will forgive or forget the atrocious way the British Government has handled education in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Considering the coronavirus has killed far fewer people than the 1968-69 Hong Kong flu did and the world did not come to a screeching halt back then, in years to come most people will no doubt conclude that Johnson’s government damaged the life chances of British children because they felt pressured by popular opinion to lockdown the whole country instead of doing the right thing.

The effects of the lockdown will be far more damaging in the long-term than those of the virus.