‘I don’t accept that!’ BBC Breakfast’s Luxmy Gopal blasted by Robert Halfon in mask debate

BBC Breakfast: Gopal grills Robert Halfon on Plan B vote

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BBC Breakfast was hosted by Luxmy Gopal and Roger Johnson on Sunday morning. The pair welcomed Conservative MP and Chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon onto the programme. Gopal quizzed the politician about the government’s recent announcement that face masks are to be worn in secondary classrooms in England’s schools in a bid to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant. Halfon made it clear he was “wary” of the new measures, raising concerns about the mental health of students. However, when Gopal questioned why he recently voted against Plan B covid measures, the Conservative hit back at the journalist.

At the start of the interview, Haflon said he had “significant reservations” about mandatory mask wearing in school classrooms.

He commented: “I will listen to what the government says, but I am very wary about imposing masks on children in schools because I worry about their wellbeing, their anxiety, and their mental health which has already suffered because of school closures during lockdown.”

The politician insisted that despite having issues with the idea of mask-wearing in classrooms, he was keen to ensure schools remain open.

“I would argue it’s not a Hobson’s Choice here. It’s not either wear masks or the schools open,” Haflon remarked.

The Conservative MP continued: “The priority must be to keep our children in schools.

“During lockdown these children lost their education for a very long time, damaged their educational attainment, damaged their mental health and their wellbeing,” he added.

However, Gopal hit back, questioning Haflon’s dedication to keeping schools open.

The journalist said: “Robert, sorry for interrupting. I think many people would agree with you about the importance of keeping children in education.

“But, if you’re keen to keep children in schools, why did you vote against the Plan B covid measures given that actually measures to restrict the spread of the Omicron variant would enable children to stay in school?” Gopal asked.

However, Haflon took issue with the question, replying: “Look, well, I don’t accept that argument for one moment.

“What I voted against was the idea of semi-mandatory covid vaccination passports.

“I think the best way to get people to take the vaccine is to persuade and educate people and not to kind of create two classes.

“I thought it led down a slippery road. But, we know that most teachers and support staff, thank goodness, have had the vaccination.

“Children over 12, many of them have been vaccinated. Teaching support staff, many of them will have had the booster vaccination.

“So, how I voted on that particular issue has nothing to do with whether schools would remain open or closed,” he said.

The government’s decision to temporarily reintroduce face coverings in classrooms aims to address concerns about schools remaining open for face-to-face learning this coming term.

Over the next week, schools across the UK are reopening after the Christmas break, with pupils being asked to take part in onsite Covid testing.

Until now, England was the only one of the four UK nations where face masks were not recommended for pupils in classrooms.

Announcing the change to covid measures in schools, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said face coverings would be required until January 26.

This is when the current national Plan B Covid measures are due to run out, however they are expected to be reviewed on or close to January 4.

BBC Breakfast airs weekdays at 6am on BBC One.

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