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 will announce on Friday that there will be no further significant changes to the country’s lockdown, with an extension of at least another three weeks to allow for a safe return to school for the youngest pupils from Monday.
Children aged between three and seven will resume face-to-face learning in classrooms from next week, as will some vocational students, including apprentices, to colleges.
Young children are being prioritised as they are the least likely to transmit coronavirus and have the most difficulties with remote learning, while students such as apprentices need to prepare for practical exams.
Drakeford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday: “I’ll be saying today that on Monday 15 March, provided things continue to improve, all primary schoolchildren will be back in face-to-face education and those students in secondary schools who are facing examinations, we aim to get them back in the classroom as well.
“And then we will carefully review as part of our deal with our teaching unions and local education authorities. We take a step, we collect the evidence, we decide what to do next.”
Drakeford said the Welsh government would take a “careful and cautious step-by-step approach” to easing lockdown restrictions in Wales.
The seven-day average of coronavirus cases in Wales is now at 84 per 100,000, with a third of adults having at least the first dose of a vaccine. The government will next review the regulations in three weeks’ time, when the reopening of non-essential retail and close-contact services such as hair salons could also be on the cards.
The Welsh announcement fits in with the fact that all four of the UK’s nations have remained in lockdown while the vaccine continues to be rolled out rapidly.
In Northern Ireland lockdown has been extended to 1 April, while in Scotland most lockdown measures are due 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.
On Thursday, Public Health Wales said a total of 822,633 first doses of the vaccine had been administered, while another 290 cases of Covid-19 were reported. It also recorded a further 14 deaths, taking the death toll in the country to 5,189.