Pupils in Covid hotspots in the north of England are being told to continue wearing face masks in the classroom next week.
Ministers have ripped up requirements for secondary school students to wear face coverings from Monday when restrictions ease further.
But council leaders in Lancashire have told schools and colleges to keep mask rules in place until June 21 following mounting concerns over the Indian Covid variant.
Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, Lancashire County Council’s director of public health, said: “This is a very tough recommendation to make at a time when the restrictions are set to ease nationally on Monday May 17.
“But the increase in prevalence of this variant in the North West means we need to take some prudent steps to help reduce its spread.
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“Wearing face coverings in schools and colleges for a few weeks longer will help to contain this and ensure the variant doesn’t take hold.”
Bolton council told parents in a letter it was “asking schools to retain the use of face coverings, as per the current arrangements, until further notice.”
Julien Kramer, interim assistant director of education and inclusion at Bury council, also wrote to parents: “We have made significant progress in reducing cases of Covid-19, there is a risk that this progress is undermined by the spread of this more infectious variant.”
Children at secondary schools in Selby, North Yorkshire, are also being advised to continue wearing masks beyond next week.
Local director of public health Louise Wallace said: “In consultation with education colleagues, we have therefore taken the common sense approach of suggesting schools consider continuing to use face coverings in those geographic areas where the Covid positive rates are highest.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), backed the move, saying teachers were best placed to decide on what was best for their schools.
“There is clearly a great deal of concern about the variant which originated in India and the situation is obviously going to be fluid in the immediate future with regards to face masks,” he said.