Schools all across Greater Manchester and England are reopening their doors for the start of a new year today.
But this time, with some new COVID measures in place.
In a bid to help tackle the spread of the Omicron variant as children return to the classroom this week, all secondary school pupils in England will now have to wear a mask, both while in class and in all hallways and communal areas, and will also be expected to take a COVID test on-site once they arrive, as well as complete a test twice a week from home.
Some individual schools and local authorities in England had already required masks in classrooms, and face coverings were recommended in schools in England between 8 March and 17 May last year.
Face coverings in educational settings will be required until 26 January, according to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi.
Not only that, but it’s also been confirmed that the first week of term will even see Ofsted inspections paused, with schools having been encouraged to ask for a deferral if they are “significantly impacted by COVID-related staff absence”.
The reopening of schools today comes after England and Scotland recorded a further 157,758 cases of the COVID-19 in the latest 24-hour period.
Several public services also had to resort to emergency plans to mitigate staff shortages.
A return to school this week also comes after Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said yesterday that said the government wants to make sure schools are given “as many tools to be able to make sure that education is open”, but did admit that it was “more challenging to deliver education with masks on in the classroom”.
“This is an aerosol-transmitted virus and if you’re wearing a mask, if you’re asymptomatic, then you’re less likely to infect other people,” Mr Zahawi told Sky News yesterday.
The government also said it would be making 7,000 air cleaning units available to early years settings, schools, and colleges.
Mr Zahawi added that the “most important thing” is to keep schools open and said that education was the “number one priority” for him and Prime Minister Boris Johnson and that they would do “everything in our power” to minimise disruption.
The government is also said to be closely monitoring staff absences in schools, especially as that, coupled with rising infection rates at the end of last term, have led to fears of further disruption to education, with the four main teaching unions covering England, Wales, and Northern Ireland – ASCL, NAHT, NEU and NASUWT – plus the GMB and Unison, have issued a joint statement calling for urgent steps to help schools.
The statement said schools needed to avoid exam disruption for a third successive year, and remove uncertainty and additional workloads for students and teachers.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday admitted, while he was visiting a vaccine centre at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in Aylesbury, that while he was not happy about the plans for education settings, they were “necessary” for now.
He also said it was “very encouraging” to see children getting vaccinated before going back to school.
You’ll soon be able to leave WhatsApp group chats without anyone finding out
In what is sure to be music to the ears of those sick of having irrelevant memes sent to them every 30 seconds by people you barely know, you’ll soon be able to leave WhatsApp group chats without anyone finding out.
Whether it’s a group made up of extended family members you see only see twice a year, colleagues at work, mutual friends you’re not really that keen on, or people you only met one time because you were at the same pre-drinks together before a night out, most of us are part of a WhatsApp group chat we’d rather not be.
The type of group chat you’re not really sure how you became a part of, and the type of chat you’ve got no clue how to politely leave.
And a big part of the reason most of us can’t bring ourselves to leave those groups is because, the second you do, a little notification pops-up at the bottom of the chat to notify everyone else that you have “left” – which can, understandably, be pretty awkward and embarrassing.
Luckily though, WhatsApp and Mark Zuckerberg – who is chief executive of the messaging service’s parent company, Meta – is soon to introduce a handful of new changes designed with the aim of making written messages as “secure as face-to-face conversations”, and one of those changes is allowing people to leave group chats without other members in the group finding out.
The company says that now only administrators of the group will receive a notification to inform them a member has exited the chat.
On top of that somewhat life-saving change, the other changes being introduced will allow people to control who can see when they are online, and also prevent screenshots being taken by other users of auto-deleting ‘View Once’ messages.
At present, the messaging service broadcasts to all contacts of a user when they are online and have the app open, but now, this is something that users will be able to choose to share with others.
WhatsApp had also previously-warned users to “only send photos or videos with ‘View Once’ media enabled to trusted individuals”, as it was possible to take a screenshot or screen recording of the message before it disappeared – but now, the act of taking screenshots will be prohibited.
In his post announcing the new WhatsApp updates, Mr Zuckerberg explained that the company will “keep building new ways to protect your messages and keep them as private and secure as face-to-face conversations.”
Meta has stated on a number of occasions that it believes end-to-end encryption is the only way to ensure users are able to message each other without a third party eavesdropping on them.
Mr Zuckerberg announced his plans to transform privacy on WhatsApp in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal back in 2019, and made it impossible for Meta itself to read the content of messages that users share, which is similar to how it cannot access the content of WhatsApp messages.
However, these changes have not yet been implemented across Meta’s other platforms.
“We believe WhatsApp is the most secure place to have a private conversation,” added Ami Vora – Head of Product at WhatsApp.
“And to spread the word about these new features, we’re also kicking off a global campaign, starting with the UK and India, to educate people about how we work to protect their private conversations on WhatsApp.”