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Covid: Wales schools could reopen after February half-term as cases fall, Drakeford announces

Coronavirus is on the decline in Wales, with an R number estimated at 0.7

Friday 29 January 2021 19:04 GMT
(Getty Images)

Wales will hope to “take advantage” of its lower rate of coronavirus transmissions to get pupils back into schools ahead of other UK nations, first minister Mark Drakeford has said.

The Welsh Labour leader said a phased return to the classroom, starting with primary school children, could begin “straight after half-term” if Covid cases continue to fall.

Earlier this week Boris Johnson dashed the hopes of millions of parents by announcing that schools in England would not reopen until at least the week beginning 8 March.

Wales currently has a rate of 170 cases per 100,000 of its population, down from 270 per 100,000 last Friday, and the country’s R number is estimated to be around 0.7 – meaning the virus is on the decline.

Mr Drakeford said on Friday that, following a three-week review, it is still too early to relax lockdown restrictions which have been in place since 20 December, despite the promising figures.

But he said he will look to reopen schools in February, with the youngest pupils being prioritised if case numbers continue to fall.

Mr Drakeford told the Welsh government’s press briefing: “Getting young people back into school and college for face-to-face learning is our priority.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the headroom to do this yet. As soon as we do, we want schools and colleges to begin to re-open.

“If infections continue to fall, we want children to be able to return to school after half-term from 22 February, starting with the youngest children in our primary schools.”

Asked why this is earlier than in England and Northern Ireland, Mr Drakeford told BBC Breakfast: “Because the context is different. Today we have 175 people in Wales for every 100,000 contracting coronavirus.

“In England a couple of days ago the average was 350, and our 170 figure is falling every day, so you can see the context is very different.

“We want to take advantage of that. Our children and young people have had a torrid time over the last 12 months, they are missing out on education every week.”

Mr Drakeford said the Welsh government is working with local education authorities, teaching unions and the children’s commissioner to return young people to face-to-face learning “as soon as it is safe to do so”.

“Provided the next three weeks see further falls, we think we can do that straight after half-term. That’s what we’ll be working on together,” Mr Drakeford said.

The country’s incidence rate, test positivity rate, and the number of people in hospitals and in critical care will all be taken into account before a decision is made on reopening schools, he said, describing it as “the top priority for us here in Wales”.

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