Most students in England and thus in London have returned to school this week after the Christmas holidays. As expected, the emergence of the new Omicron variant in our city has led to much controversy over the new COVID policies that the government has implemented to try and curb the recent spike in infections. Subsequently, a rather forceful outcry protesting the new compulsory mask rule in senior schools has joined the already fervent anti-vax and anti-social distancing groups already prominent in the U.K. 


The U.K. government has recommended that all schools require their pupils to keep their masks on in classrooms and common areas. Many schools will also require that their students take lateral flow tests immediately before returning to school and that their students take onsite tests. 


Despite the fact that these covid restrictions pale in comparison to the total lockdowns we faced as a country in the spring of 2020 and for a significant proportion of 2021, which obstructed the learning of countless children, and that they are all protocols which children have met and dealt with before, many parents are unhappy with the new measures. 


However, if we compare ourselves to other countries which have been similarly affected by the pandemic such as the U.S.A., a country with a similar volume of omicron cases to the U.K., our school protocols are far less restricting. In Las Vegas, for example, children are required to wear masks full time, including when doing physical exercise and children are required to present proof of vaccination when going on school trips and excursions. It is also important to note that this has been the standard for Vegas schools for months now, whereas the children here have been luxuriously free of these rules for a few terms now. This is perhaps because their children only returned to school in the summer term of 2021, meaning they lost an entire year of in person schooling. 


Furthermore, in some schools in South Africa, the students wear masks for 8 hours a day non-stop and have done so from the start of the pandemic. Students are only permitted to remove their masks once a day for lunch, which takes place outside to further curb transmissions of the virus. If students are found not following the rules and obeying social distancing rules, they may risk facing detentions or other punishment. We should perhaps consider asking ourselves whether we should be following South Africa’s example seeing as their world renown immunologists and scientists were the first to identify the Omicron variant and have shown themselves to be worth their salt in every sense of the phrase. If we shirk the advice of scientists whilst also demanding they tirelessly toil to bring an end to the pandemic, we will only have ourselves to blame when the pandemic stretches on endlessly. 


Many people have therefore argued that whilst it may be inconvenient or ‘burdensome’ as some protesters have phrased it to adhere to these new rules, we may have to accept these new rules for what they are, the bare minimum of safety precautions which have been put in place to try and minimise both disruptions to the learning process of countless children and, perhaps slightly more pressingly, deaths in our country.