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Senior British parliamentarian fears masks could damage mental health

Published January 03,2022

A senior member of Britain's Conservative Party has said he fears mask-wearing in schools could damage children's mental health as the British government insisted the extra precaution would help keep pupils learning.

Robert Halfon, chair of the House of Commons education select committee, said the risks from Covid-19 need to be balanced against the risks to children's well-being.

He made the comments as the government announced masks will return for secondary school students in England's classrooms on a temporary basis this term.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said he would rather have masks worn in classrooms than children out of school.

"I think in terms of schools, if the choice is between having masks at schools or children missing schools in huge numbers, of course we want to keep pupils learning. That's got to be the priority," he told Sky News.

The news comes as health minister Ed Argar said he saw "nothing" in the current data to suggest further restrictions were needed.

"We need cool, calm heads," he told Times Radio.

"Restrictions or curbs must be the absolute last resort. I'm seeing nothing at the moment in the data I have in front of me, in the immediate situation, that suggests a need for further restrictions. But that data changes day by day."

Speaking to the PA News Agency, Halfon said: "My concern about masks is, first of all, that... (children's minister) Will Quince came to my committee in December and said that there was very limited evidence as to the efficacy of masks in educational settings."

"And there is a lot of evidence out there from Belgium, to Canada, to the United States, suggesting that masks on children have a damaging effect, or can have a negative effect on their mental health, their well-being, their ability to communicate, their emotional awareness."