New guidance issued by the Department for Education means students will be encouraged to wear face masks in “communal areas” whilst at university.
It comes following the emergence of the Omicron variant of coronavirus first discovered in southern Africa.
Only a small number of cases of the variant have been reported in England – including one case in Nottingham – but scientists are not yet sure what impact it will have with regards to transmission and vaccine efficacy.
The updated guidance says: “We recommend that face coverings should be worn by students, staff and adult visitors when moving around the premises such as in corridors and communal spaces.”
It is not compulsory for students to wear face masks in teaching spaces, such as lecture theatres, but the Department for Education says universities may want to “consider adopting the use of face coverings in workshops, laboratories, offices, libraries, teaching rooms and lecture halls”.
The University of Nottingham have said that face masks will be mandatory across all indoor settings on campus unless exempt.
An email sent to students said: “In addition to our tried and tested procedures, we are now making the wearing of face coverings mandatory in all indoor areas on campus unless at least one metre separation can be maintained.
“The wearing of face coverings is now mandatory in all indoor areas on campus such as classrooms, lecture theatres, laboratories, libraries, social spaces and hopper buses – unless at least 1 metre separation can be maintained.”
From Tuesday, it will be mandatory to wear face masks in retail settings and on public transport.
The rules will not, however, be extended to include the hospitality sector such as pubs and restaurants.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the Government “could not have acted more swiftly” in reintroducing face masks.
He said: “The reason we’ve set out these measures yesterday is to protect the progress we’ve made so we can all continue to enjoy Christmas with our families.”
The Government will review the data in three weeks to see whether new restrictions could be lifted again.