Ending face masks in universities and colleges is ‘irresponsible’ – unions

The government has updated its safety guidelines on wearing face masks in universities and colleges, with masks “no longer advised” in lecture halls and classrooms from Thursday.

The news follows Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement on Wednesday that “once the regulations fall, the government will no longer mandate the wearing of face masks anywhere”.

From January 27, students, staff and visitors will no longer need to wear masks at universities, although government guidelines say universities and colleges can use them “voluntarily”.

The unions called the decision “irresponsible”.

University and College Union (UCU) Secretary Jo Grady said: “It is clear that while Covid cases remain high, basic measures such as face masks, which help prevent the spread of virus, should continue to be in place.”

She added: “Education has faced enough disruption and it is irresponsible to abandon mitigation measures that reduce the risk of infections and outbreaks.”

She said the UCU expects employers to prioritize the safety of staff and students “and ensure that high-quality face masks, which are scientifically proven to reduce transmission , are freely available to staff and students on campus”, as well as verifying that indoor spaces have good levels of ventilation.

Writing on social media, Anastasia Karamalidou, senior lecturer in criminology at the University of the West of England, Bristol, said: “At a minimum, it is disappointing to see the removal of masks from educational settings.

“As we enter another academic term in the dead of winter, the removal of masks puts the physical and mental health of students and staff at risk.”

Last week, the UCU said employers needed to “raise their game” by allowing clinically vulnerable staff to work remotely, as well as providing all staff with better quality face masks.

The union has also called for staff who are self-isolating or caring for self-isolated people to be able to access sick pay.

Earlier this month, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said there was “no excuse” for universities not providing face-to-face teaching despite a rise in Covid cases and staff absences.

He added that students who felt they “didn’t get what they paid for” should complain to the Student Union.

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