CLOSING schools is the last possible option in the fight against the new Omicron variant of coronavirus, the Education Secretary has said.

Nadhim Zahawi said he does not support the return of “bubbles” in schools – where whole classes or year groups could be sent home after a positive Covid-19 test – as it reduces attendance “significantly”.

His comments came as targeted testing of pupils began in two schools in Essex and Nottinghamshire after cases of the Omicron variant were detected in the local areas.

Read more: Health Secretary Sajid Javid gives statement on Omnicron Covid

Face masks are being recommended in communal areas of England’s secondary schools and colleges, but teaching unions are calling for tougher measures to be implemented to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The Education Secretary said: “The best place for children to be is in a classroom, learning.”

Asked if closing schools was the “last possible option”, he said: “Absolutely.”

Mr Zahawi added: “Keep schools open, do all the things necessary, like face masks in communal areas to protect the education in the classroom.

“Face masks are not a panacea, these are all interventions that just help you slow the virus from accelerating too quickly.”

Read more: All people aged over 18 to be offered Covid-19 booster jab

The Education Secretary said he disagreed with the idea of a return of bubbles in schools as “that reduces attendance significantly”.

The National Education Union (NEU) has suggested face coverings could also be worn in secondary school classrooms, and schools in England could consider “bubbles” to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

It added that it wanted to avoid a return to disrupted education.

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