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Primary schoolchildren in Wales will return to face-to-face teaching from 15 March if the coronavirus situation in the country continues to improve, the first minister has said.
Mark Drakeford announced on Friday that there was “headroom” to begin a phased and flexible reopening, starting with modest changes to the country’s lockdown. The overarching “stay at home” message will be extended for at least another three weeks to allow for a safe return to school for the youngest pupils from Monday, he said.
Coronavirus cases in Wales are at their lowest level since the end of September . The seven-day average stands at 84 per 100,000 and the R number is below 1. Evidence shows the reduction in community transmission was being reflected in falling hospital admissions, Drakeford said, and the vaccination programme was on track. A third of adults have received at least one dose.
He told the briefing in Cardiff the situation was improving every day, and that there was now “headroom to make some modest changes as we take the first cautious steps to relaxing the lockdown” from Monday. Children aged between three and seven will resume face-to-face learning in classrooms, aand some vocational students, including apprentices, will return to colleges.
Young children are being prioritised because they are the least likely to transmit the virus and have the most difficulties with remote learning. Students such as apprentices need to prepare for practical exams.
As many as four people from two different households will also be able to exercise outdoors together from Saturday, and Drakeford said the law would be changed next week to allow licensed wedding venues to reopen for weddings and civil partnerships from 1 March, and for some sports training to resume. The government would look again at how to allow more care home visits to take place safely, he said.
The changes to the rules do not mean it is permissible to drive somewhere to exercise, and “it does mean exercise, not socialising”, he said.
If the situation continues to improve in Wales, the government would look at getting more young people back into school and college in the next review of restrictions during the week beginning 8 March, Drakeford said.
The aim would then be for all primary school children to return to face-to-face learning from 15 March, along with students in exam years 11 and 13 on a blended learning basis.
The reopening of non-essential retail and close-contact services such as hair salons could be on the cards if the government was able to lift the “stay at home” message, Drakeford said.
Looking beyond the next three weeks, discussions would also begin with the tourism sector to look at ways to reopen self-contained accommodation, he said.
All four of the UK’s nations have remained in lockdown as the vaccine is rolled out.
In Northern Ireland, the lockdown has been extended to 1 April, and in Scotland most measures are expected to remain in place until the end of February. Boris Johnson is expected to set out a roadmap for easing lockdown in England “cautiously” on Monday.
Public Health Wales said on Thursday that 822,633 first doses of the vaccine had been administered. It also reported another 290 Covid-19 cases and 14 deaths, taking the death toll in the country to 5,189.
Source: The Guardian
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