4 months ago
Some pupils could return to school in Wales after half term
Covid: Wales' school return could start after half termPublished4 minutes agoSharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingRelated Topics
Some primary school children could begin a phased return to school from 22 February - just after half term - if Covid rates continue to fall, Wales' first minister has said.
Ministers have been under pressure to set out their plans for a return to face-to-face teaching.
Most children's schooling has been online while Wales is in lockdown.
Later, Mark Drakeford will also say the tough "alert level four" restrictions will remain for three more weeks.
He told BBC Breakfast that there was a "strong case" for having the very youngest children back in school as "they're not able to learn online and remotely" and the risk of them transmitting Covid was "the least of all".
"Our children and young people have had a torrid time, over the last 12 months, they are missing out on education, every week," he said.
He added that the phased return could include some pupils who were due to sit exams and "particularly those where there are practical aspects of examinations or vocational qualifications".
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said 8 March was the earliest date schools in England could reopen and that "depends on lots of things going right".
In Northern Ireland pupils will not return to school until 8 March at the earliest, while rules on lockdown restrictions in Scotland are to be reviewed on 2 February.
Mr Drakeford said a "combination of factors" would be considered before children could begin returning to schools in Wales - including the incidence rate of cases per 100,000 people, Covid test positivity rate and hospital numbers.
"The key thing is the trend - those numbers need to continue to fall," he said.
With regard to a four nations approach to schools reopening, Mr Drakeford said the falling numbers of Covid cases in Wales had enabled him to make this move.
When asked whether the Welsh Government would prioritise vaccinating teachers and school staff, after the first four priority groups set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have been vaccinated, he said he would "follow the advice of the JCVI".
When do Welsh schools go back?
The Welsh Government said it would work with "schools and education partners on a phased and flexible return to school" after 22 February, providing the public health situation continued to improve.
It added that while the situation in Wales was improving, lockdown restrictions must continue for another three weeks "to allow the NHS to recover".
Wales' chief medical officer Frank Atherton said on Wednesday the headroom to relax restrictions was "really quite limited".
The Welsh Government decided to close schools to the majority of pupils as concerns grew about the new variant of coronavirus, which was blamed for the rise in cases seen before Christmas.
Schools remained closed except to vulnerable children, and those whose parents are key workers.
Deputy head teacher Rachel Antoniazzi at Llysfaen Primary School in Cardiff said the announcement was a "welcome return" and parents in Wales would be "breathing a huge sigh of relief".
"I think the biggest concern is that parents take this seriously and that when children return to school, that it's not like a return to normality, so they don't start doing play dates and sleepovers, thinking it's normal."
Laura Doel, director of school leaders' union NAHT Cymru, said there were "still too many unknowns" - such as vaccine efficacy and infection rates - to put the 22 February date "firmly in the diary yet".
"It has been a challenge for families to juggle employment and home-learning, and school leaders want to see nothing more than pupils back in class as soon as it is safe to do so."
Ms Doel added that the teaching workforce should also be prioritised for vaccinations.image copyrightGetty Imagesimage captionIn February, schools could start to see pupils in the classroom for the first time since before Christmas
Sally Holland, the children's commissioner for Wales, has urged ministers to set out the "milestones" that would need to be reached before children returned.
On Wednesday, Dr Atherton said the outbreak was "shrinking rather than growing", but rates were still "way too high".
However, Mr Drakeford told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast there would be "minor adjustments" to lockdown rules - including bubbles and exercise.
What changes are there to exercise rules?
Mr Drakeford said rules on who people can exercise with would ease "very slightly".
"We're going to [allow you] to meet one other person from one other household, providing they are living locally to you, so you will be able to exercise alongside that other person.
"You can meet a different person on different occasions - you've all got to leave from your own front door and return to your own front door for exercise."
He said the change was in response to "messages we've heard from women about not feeling safe" when exercising at this time of year.
How are bubbles affected?
Mr Drakeford said changes to rules on bubbles would allow people "to dissolve the bubble they're in at the moment and reform it with another household, provided there's a 10-day gap between the two".
"At the moment in Wales if you have formed a bubble with another household as a single person household, you can't change that arrangement.
"But we know that weeks into this some people will have moved, some relationships will have changed."
Welsh Conservative Senedd leader Andrew RT Davies as called for a "route map out of lockdown" which included "crucial targets concerning the roll-out of coronavirus jabs, falling numbers of infections and the reopening of schools and businesses".
He acknowledged "there is currently little headroom to make any changes".
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price urged a raft of new measures, including making medical grade masks compulsory for everyone and increasing the level and flexibility of the self-isolation support.
He said: "Having been too slow into lockdown, we can't be too slow in examining all possible avenues for bringing the new variant under control."
What are the cases of coronavirus in Wales?
Figures from Public Health Wales (PHW) figures on Thursday showed a total of 190,394 cases had been confirmed in the country and the number of people who had died with the virus was 4,666.
The local authority with the highest number of deaths was Cwm Taf Morgannwg with 1,344, followed by Aneurin Bevan with 875.
The Powys health board area had the lowest number for residents in Wales with 47.
The latest data PHW showed the current case rate across the whole of Wales was 190 cases per 100,000 people.
The area with the highest seven-day rolling case rate was Wrexham, where 477.4 people per 100,000 population had the virus.
The next two highest were Wrexham's neighbouring counties of Flintshire - 369 - and Denbighshire - 241.4.
The areas with the lowest case rates were Ceredigion with 78.4, followed by Conwy with 110.9.
Find out how the pandemic has affected your area and how it compares with the national average:
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Enter a full UK postcode or council name to find outData for the most recent days may be revised upwards as new test results are received Deaths are where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate. Source: ONS, NRS and NISRA – data updated weekly. Cases are people who have tested positive for coronavirus. The "average area" means the middle ranking council or local government district when ranked by cases per 100,000 people. Public health bodies may occasionally revise their case numbers. Source: UK public health bodies - updated weekdays.
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The postcode search has been updated to replace data for health boards in Scotland with data for local councils. In England, data for county councils has been replaced with data for district councils. Figures for boroughs and unitary authorities remain unchanged.
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