England’s deputy chief medical officer has defended children wearing face masks in classrooms after Boris Johnson said it was “nonsensical”.
The government has advised secondary school and college students and staff returning on 8 March to wear face coverings in all areas, including classrooms.
This advice, which came in the road map out of lockdown that Johnson outlined on Monday, will be in place until at least Easter under strengthened protective measures against COVID-19.
Asked at a Downing Street press conference about the prime minister saying in August that making children wear masks in schools was “nonsensical”, Dr Jenny Harries said: “Face coverings are there to help others – we are protecting others by wearing them.
Watch: Education Secretary announces school return on 8 March
Dr Harries added: “There are a number of different conditions at the moment. For example, we have a new variant, and while we are understanding that more, then obviously taking additional precautions makes sense.
“We understand more about the ability for aerosol generation and transmission, so that is also important.
“So things, I think, have moved on and it should be reassuring to know that we look at the evidence and then adjust our advice accordingly.”
Johnson said last summer it wouldn’t be possible for pupils to learn if either their teachers had to wear face coverings.
He said: “But not (face masks) in the classrooms because that is clearly nonsensical – you can’t teach with face coverings; you can’t expect people to learn with face coverings.”
Some organisations have criticised the decision to advise students to wear face masks.
Ministers have been warned it would be "devastating" for deaf youngsters, while the Department for Education said teachers should be "sensitive" to pupils' needs.
The National Deaf Children's Society head of policy Ian Noon said: “With England’s 35,000 deaf pupils close to a return to education, the goalposts on face masks have moved yet again.
"Public health must take priority, but bringing face masks into classrooms will have a devastating effect on deaf children’s studies, mental health and ability to take part in lessons.
"The government cannot make an announcement and expect this to be enough.
"It must move quickly to show exactly how it will guarantee deaf children can still access their lessons."
A spokesperson for the Department for Education added: "Teachers should continue to be sensitive to the additional needs of their students, such as deafness, in deciding whether it is appropriate to wear a face covering."