The youngest children in Wales could begin returning to school after the February half term, if rates of coronavirus continue to fall, First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced today, January 29.

The First Minister confirmed the alert level four lockdown restrictions will remain in place in Wales for the next three weeks, following a review of the measures.

He will also provide more details of a £200m package to top-up support for businesses.

Rates of coronavirus across Wales have fallen below 200 cases per 100,000 people for the first time since early November.

And every day, thousands more people receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine – the latest figures show almost 11 per cent of the population have been vaccinated.

The return to primary school will be planned in a phased and flexible way from February 22, if the public health situation continues to improve. Students studying vocational qualifications will also be among those prioritised for the phased return to colleges.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We are making steady progress in bringing coronavirus under control once again. Every day, the vaccination programme is speeding up as more people are vaccinated and more clinics open. Each vaccine is another small victory against the virus.

“We’ve seen a really welcome fall in cases of the virus all over Wales, but they are still too high and the NHS continues to be under intense pressure.

“We need to keep the lockdown restrictions in place for a little while longer to help us bring rates of the virus down further. If we can do this, we will create the headroom we need to get children back to school after half term – starting with the youngest at primary schools

“We will work with teachers, colleges, local authorities to plan for the safe return of children to school over the next couple of weeks and keep parents updated.”

Two small changes will be made to the current alert level four restrictions:

• A maximum of two people from different households will be able to exercise outdoors together, as long as they maintain social distancing. This must involve exercise starting from and finishing from home – driving for exercise to beauty spots should still not take place.

• If a support bubble arrangement has broken down, a new one can be formed as long as there is gap of 10 days before doing so.

These changes will come into effect on Saturday, January 30.

The First Minister added: “I hope these two very small and cautious steps will be the first towards a time when we can all live with fewer restrictions on our lives and without fear of this terrible virus.”

The further £200m support for non-essential retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses will help firms with operational costs, and brings the package of business support provided through the Economic Resilience Fund since December to £650m.

Businesses with a rateable value of up to £500,000 will receive support payments of between £3,000 and £5,000.

Economy Minister Ken Skates will provide further details later today.

In alert level four lockdown, everyone must:

• Stay at home.

• Work from home if they can.

• Keep a 2m distance from others.

• Wear a face covering in all indoor public places.

• Not meet anyone not in your immediate household or support bubble.


Commenting on the First Minister’s announcement that schools in Wales will start to open more widely for younger pupils from February 22, Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:

“It is essential that the Wales national lockdown restrictions are supported fully in order to reduce the rates of virus transmission in the wider community and in order to ensure that schools can reopen fully as soon as it is safe to do so whilst minimising the risks to public health.

“It is important that the majority of children and young people in all schools are now supported to stay at home and that teachers also work from home to provide support for children’s learning remotely.

“The Welsh Government must deliver urgently extra support to families during the lockdown, many of whom are experiencing very serious financial difficulties at this time.

“Given previous experience, the announcement of arbitrary dates for schools to reopen to all pupils can be profoundly unhelpful to parents and to those working in schools. However, a clear plan for how schools will be fully reopened whenever the lockdown restrictions are lifted remains a key question which the Welsh Government must now work urgently and openly with the profession to address and I welcome the commitment from the First Minister to work with the education unions on this.”