Ministers cancel campus mask advice as Plan B rolled back

English universities should ‘deliver face-to-face teaching without restrictions’, says Department for Education

January 20, 2022
London, United Kingdom - November 13 2020 A student wearing a protective face mask walks past the LSE Old Building, London School of Economics and Political Science.
Source: iStock

English universities should “deliver face-to-face teaching without restrictions” following the lifting of Plan B coronavirus restrictions, the Westminster government says.

Issuing new sector guidance, the Department for Education also confirms that face coverings “are no longer advised” for students and staff in teaching rooms and that, from 27 January, they are no longer recommended in communal areas.

The revised guidance comes alongside the lifting of work-from-home guidance and other restrictions that were brought in to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

With the removal of Plan B measures, “HE providers should note that there are no Covid restrictions that apply to higher education and they should ensure that they deliver face-to-face teaching without restrictions”, the guidance says.

“Risk assessments by HE providers should take account of the approach to managing the virus in wider society, particularly that restrictions have been removed and the vaccine programme continues to be rolled out,” the document says. “Risk assessments should never be used to prevent providers delivering the full programme of face-to-face teaching and learning that they were providing before the pandemic.”

Scientists have warned of the likelihood of “major outbreaks” of Covid-19 on campuses during January given the high Omicron infection rates among returning students, many of whom have yet to receive booster vaccinations.

Many UK universities delivered large lectures online during the autumn term because of concerns over Covid-19, but England’s education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, has said he expects students to be taught in person this month.

The DfE guidance says that, while face coverings are no longer required in teaching settings and are not recommended in communal areas from 27 January, universities “may still choose to use them voluntarily”.

However, the guidance adds: “No student should be denied education on the grounds that they are, or are not, wearing a face covering.”

It also says that providers “should not use the NHS Covid Pass as a condition of entry for education or related activities such as exams or teaching or extracurricular activities or any other day-to-day activities that are part of education or training”.

The University and College Union has called on higher education institutions to “raise their game” in the fight against Omicron by allowing vulnerable staff to work remotely and ensuring that high-quality face masks are freely available for all staff working in person on campus.

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