THE Welsh Government has been accused of a “staggering” u-turn after it chose to halt controversial plans to roll out ozone disinfection machines in Welsh schools.
Opposition parties, parents and medical professionals were concerned at the plans to spend more than £3 million on ozone machines developed by Swansea University in a bid to combat coronavirus in classrooms.
Ozone is a toxic gas that can damage lungs when inhaled, and although Swansea University said the machines could be used when no pupils were present, the Government appears to have rowed back on the plans.
But earlier this week, it confirmed no decision had been taken to buy them, adding it would not do so without seeking expert advice first.
The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of experts to the Government will look at results of early trials of the machines “before any procurement process begins”.
Having originally written a piece on the issue on Nation.Cymru, fresh air campaigner Dr Eilir Hughes tweeted: “Well that’s a win for Welsh kids” while congratulating government ministers for listening.”
Well that’s a win for Welsh kids!
— Dr Eilir Hughes (@hughes_eilir) September 1, 2021
However, opposition parties have been less forgiving.
The Welsh Conservatives’ shadow minister for education, Laura Anne Jones, said: “Whilst I welcome this apparent U-turn by Labour ministers, I find it absolutely staggering that they didn’t seek advice from scientists before making an announcement.
“Making a rash decision to introduce these toxic chemical-spraying machines, which could have a seriously damaging impact on our youngsters’ heath, without talking to experts is quite frankly a reckless move.
“Ministers need to publish the advice from experts, along with any risk assessments undertaken, for everyone to see before moving forward with this controversial project.”
Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru’s health spokesperson Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “They now seem to have performed quite a spectacular U-turn following serious concerns by medical professionals and scientists about the safety of these machines – now claiming they only “considered” their use and have not even begun the procurement process. Something doesn’t add up.
“Ozone disinfecting machines clean the air when no one is in the room and are dangerous to use when people are present.
“That’s why serious questions need to be asked about the Government’s judgment in deciding to roll out these particular machines into our schools, colleges and universities – a few days before students begin returning after the summer break.
“What certainty have they been given that this brand-new technology – that hasn’t been fully trialled yet – is safe to use in these settings?
“Every measure must be taken to ensure that transmission is minimised. The virus is airborne, so Welsh Government should be doing everything they can to ensure cleaner air in schools.
“But, this should not mean the introduction of potentially very dangerous machines when other methods of air purification are already tried, tested – and much more cost-effective.”
Swansea University has insisted the machines would have strict safety rules, with nobody allowed in any room when the machine is operating.
A spokesperson added: “The whole cycle typically takes only a few hours, can easily be run after school and when no pupils are present.
“These machines will help us get rooms, such as classrooms, back in use quickly and safely after an outbreak.”
While announcing the pause, the Government confirmed it will continue to invest in the installation of over 30,000 CO2 sensors for schools and educational settings, with the monitors intended to be deployed as soon as possible.
This article originally appeared on our sister site The National.