Mark Drakeford has defended his decision to welcome children back into Welsh classrooms this month – a full two weeks before schools in England are set to reopen.
Children aged between three and seven are set to return to Welsh primary schools on February 22.
While some councils have said that they will not be asking children to attend school on this date due to local coronavirus infection rates, it seems that the majority of primary schools in Wales will see a phased return to face-to-face education in just over a week’s time.
In England that phased return is not due to start until March 8 at the earliest.
Appearing on Sky News on Sunday (February 14) morning, Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford was asked by Sophy Ridge if an early reopening of schools was the correct move for a leader who claims to be taking a “cautious” approach towards exiting lockdown.
He said: “We are able to do this because we went into a national lockdown here [in Wales] before Christmas and that is being felt here very significantly. The infection rate was over 650 and is now below 100 – that has created a small amount of headroom to allow us to bring the youngest children back into school on February 22.
“We will then monitor that very carefully indeed. These are tentative and first steps.”
Mr Drakeford also admitted that should the current coronavirus situation in Wales worsen – the seven day infection rate is currently the lowest it has been for months – then he will not hesitate to close schools once more and delay any planned return for older children.
“The advice to us is that we should always take measures that could be reversed quickly,” he said.
“If there were to be unintended consequences then we would be able to go into reverse.
“We absolutely don’t want to do that, but if things were to go against us then we could go back to the position that we are in today.”
The First Minister was also asked about Labour leader Keir Starmer’s view that teachers should be moved up the coronavirus vaccination priority list. Mr Drakeford said that he and the Welsh Government would always follow the advice given by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI).
The First Minister said: “They [the JVCI] will be considering the case for professional groups being moved up the priority list, and if their advice changes then our approach will change.”
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The UK Government’s much-criticised hotel quarantine policy will start on Monday – meaning anyone arriving from 33 countries deemed to be of high-risk will have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.
Mr Drakeford confirmed that there were no quarantine hotels being set up in Wales because there are no flights from any of the 33 countries on the list landing in Wales. He also criticised the UK Government’s handling of the situation, arguing that the list of countries should be more far-reaching.
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“I would have done it in the opposite way to the UK Government,” he told Sophy Ridge.
“I would have said that nobody can come in other than from a list of countries where we are absolutely sure it’s safe for people to come into the quarantine arrangements that are being suggested. I think we need to build the wall higher to make sure that we are not vulnerable to new variants that could appear in any part of the world.”
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk