New guidance on the use of face coverings in secondary schools comes into effect today following the tragic outbreak of Covid-19 amongst staff and pupils at Kingspark School.
Dundee took centre stage in national political discourse last week following news that 21 teachers at the school tested positive while reports of other positive cases emerged in other schools across the city.
Beyond Dundee, there was also an outbreak of 188 cases at the 2 Sisters food processing site in Coupar Angus.
It is clear this virus is still a threat as Scotland registered its first deaths to Covid-19 in more than a month.
However, the new guidance for secondary pupils issued by the Scottish Government, and predicated upon recent recommendations published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has sparked outrage.
Jo Bisset, who leads the parent group Us for Them Scotland, said: “Forcing children to wear masks when there’s little scientific evidence to support such a move could be hugely damaging.”
The first thing to highlight is that the new guidance released by the World Health Organisation more than a week ago stated it was specifically targeted towards areas with higher rates of transmission, which Scotland does not yet have.
Additionally, Dr John Lee, the former clinical professor of pathology at Hull York Medical School and NHS Foundation Trust’s director of cancer services, stated: “The science for the resilience of face masks is very weak and based upon low quality descriptive data.”
The second thing to say is Scotland’s first minister has insisted children aged five and older must adhere to the guidance on school transport in direct contravention of the WHO guidance which clearly indicates children aged five years old and under should not wear masks under any circumstances.
The guidance is also extremely clear in setting out six key tests before children aged six and above must wear them, none of which meet the requirements laid out by the WHO.
Finally, while there are critics of efficacy of the data, I am neither a scientist nor a medical professional, so I will reserve judgment but my view is the WHO guidance is very clear.
My concern relates to the poor interpretation and application of it by the Scottish Government, which is a serious misuse of the recommendations.
In a staggeringly confusing interview on BBC Radio Scotland last Tuesday, education secretary John Swinney said the guidance was “not mandatory” but is “obligatory”.
Given that the WHO guidance is intended for higher rates of transmission and taking into account the Scottish Government’s risk aversion, I believe it is inevitable they will be giving due consideration to rolling out a local lockdown in Dundee, like the one in Aberdeen.
However, as the GERS figures shining a light on the perilous state of our economy reveal, a local lockdown would be a devastating move for our city.