LONDON (Reuters) - Children in secondary schools in England will be told to wear face coverings when they return after the Christmas holiday next week to tackle a surge in cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday.
"We want to maximise the number of children in school and college for the maximum amount of time," he said in an article in the Sunday Telegraph.
"One of the additional, temporary measures that will help achieve this in light of the omicron surge is recommending face coverings are worn in secondary school classrooms and teaching spaces for the coming weeks – although not for longer than they are needed."
England was the only one of the four UK nations where face coverings were not previously recommended in the classroom.
With daily infection numbers at record highs and people who test positive required to isolate for at least seven days, schools and other public services are facing disruption from staff shortages.
The government has asked public sector managers to prepare for a worst-case scenario of 25% of staff absent in the weeks ahead.
Zahawi said some remote learning would be necessary given the number of pupils and teachers who would have to self-isolate.
But he added that face-to-face teaching would continue to be the expected norm and exams would go ahead as planned this month.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle, Editing by Louise Heavens)