A Scottish school in Dundee has closed following an outbreak of coronavirus that has so far led to 27 positive cases.
In separate developments the Scottish government has confirmed pupils may have to wear face coverings in school corridors and communal areas – a move the UK education secretary has ruled out for English pupils.
Gavin Williamson said there is a “system of controls in place” in English schools so the government would not be recommending face coverings for older students and teachers as Nicola Sturgeon said her Scottish education secretary is in the “final stages” of a consultation in the matter.
It is likely to see children aged 12 and older will be advised to wear masks when outside the classroom to reduce possible transmission of the virus in areas – such as corridors and communal areas – where social distancing is difficult.
Sturgeon’s move marks a U-turn as her government previously stated face coverings were unnecessary in schools and comes after the World Health Organisation said at the weekend that they were useful in high transmission areas and where social distancing is impossible.
Williamson failed to answer the question as to whether he understood why older students and staff may want to wear masks and repeated his earlier comments that the government is following Public Health England (PHE) “guidance at every stage”.
‘Elements of discretion in the guidance’
He told reporters there were “elements of discretion in the guidance” and added: “At every stage we have been guided with the best scientific and health advice that has been provided by Public Health England to make sure schools are safe and controlled environments…. we have seen that happen.”
Williamson’s appearance follows a torrid time for the education secretary who was further pilloried at the weekend for taking a holiday a week before the disastrous publication of the A level results. His comments were part of a concerted campaign to make sure English schools reopen for the start of term from next that saw the prime minister post video statements that were echoed by other ministers and officials.
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and his deputy Jenny Harries are backing the government’s plan to get English schools reopened and said children could be at greater harm at home rather than at school. Harries said children are probably more at risk from a car-crash on the way to school than from the results of contracting the virus at it.
Boris Jonson has already called it a “moral duty” and “national obligation” to reopen schools and his intervention to “personally front the return-to-school drive” is reported as “part of a deliberate attempt to switch the ‘messenger’ [from Williamson] and win back the public”
Dundee school closed after coronavirus outbreak
An update by NHS Tayside on Monday confirmed that 21 staff, two pupils and four community contacts of Kingspark School in Dundee have tested positive for Covid-19 following earlier reports that 17 teachers and two pupils had positive tests.
Kingspark School – which educates around 185 pupils aged 5-18 years old pupils with additional support needs – was closed on Wednesday (August 19) for two weeks with all staff and pupils asked to self isolate for 14 days.
At St Peter and Paul’s School, also in Dundee, an individual tested positive leading to all the class being asked to quarantine until September 2, while the city’s Happy Times out-of-school club at Downfield Primary School has also seen those attending asked to self-isolate after a case was confirmed.
“The actions and measures that have been put in place will help to prevent any further spread of infection and we hope to see the numbers of positive cases tail off over the coming days,” said NHS Tayside’s Dr Daniel Chandler, explaining a “small rise in the number of positive cases” may result from “the high level of tests undertaken among staff who work at the school”.
Dundee City Council’s Children and Families Services executive director Paul Clancy said: “I would like to reassure families that this action is being taken to keep everyone safe. This is our paramount concern and we cannot be complacent.”
It has also been confirmed today that two pupils and a member of staff at a primary school in South Lanarkshire have tested positive.
NHS Lanarkshire state there is no evidence of transmission of the virus with High Blantyre Primary School where staff and pupils associated with three classes have been asked to isolate while the rest of the school remains open.