Stay-at-home measures remain as First Minister says schools are his priority

The public health situation in Wales ‘has improved significantly’ since Christmas, says Mark Drakeford

FIRST Minister Mark Drakeford has outlined the Welsh Government’s latest review of lockdown restrictions and says the priority remains “getting children back into school”.

This afternoon’s press conference from Cathays Park was the latest 21-day review of Wales’s stay at home lockdown restrictions, which were imposed on December 20.

The First Minister confirmed that primary school children in the Foundation Phase, aged between three and seven, will return to the classroom on Monday.

If the situation improves over the next three weeks, the Welsh Government aims for all primary school children to return to face-to-face teaching from March 15, with some older children, such as those in years 11 and 13, to return on a blended learning basis “if the conditions are right”.

He said: “We’ve been working with local education authorities and with teaching and non-teaching staff unions about how we will re-open schools in a phased and flexible way for Foundation Phase from Monday.

“I am very grateful to everyone who has been involved in this work to prepare for the return of face-to-face learning. Getting children back into school is our priority.

“This means the overarching stay-at-home measures will be in place for a further three weeks.

“But we can make some very modest changes to the regulations as we take some first cautious steps to relax some of the strictest lockdown restrictions we have all been living with for so long.”

The relaxations announced by Mr Drakeford at this afternoon’s press conference are:

  • From tomorrow (Saturday, February 20), four people from two different households will be allowed to exercise together. People must remain local and cannot drive to exercise to prevent “large congregations of people in relatively confined spaces”.   
  • Sport Wales will make arrangements for athletes to resume training and playing.
  • Wedding venues will be allowed to re-open to perform wedding and civil partnership ceremonies.

The Welsh Government will also review its guidance for visiting care homes as more of their residents and workers are vaccinated.

If the Welsh Government can lift the stay at home requirement, it will consider re-opening non-essential shops and close-contact services, such as hairdressers.

After that, if stay at home restrictions are lifted, it will discuss the phased re-opening of Welsh tourism by Easter, starting with self-contained accommodation. Mr Drakeford met with a tourism taskforce yesterday and will continue discussions with the tourism sector.  

In response to questions about the hospitality industry, Mr Drakeford said that Wales needs to re-open “step-by-step”, and that the industry does not want its return to be “stop-start”.

Mr Drakeford said: “As soon as conditions allow, we want to see the sector get back into action.”

Next week, the health minister, Vaughan Gething, will provide an update on vaccinations in Wales. A total of 839,065 people in Wales have now received their first dose of the vaccine, which Mr Drakeford said is the equivalent of 1/3 of the adult population.

The First Minister said that Wales is on track to offer the vaccine to everyone in priority groups five to nine by the end of April, as long as vaccine supplies remain on course.

Overall cases of coronavirus in Wales are now at their lowest level since the end of September.