Wales points the way for Boris Johnson to lift England’s lockdown as Mark Drakeford hints holiday homes could reopen for EASTER and confirms ALL primary school pupils and teens facing exams will return to classrooms by March 15

  • Children aged three to seven will return to classrooms in Wales from Monday 
  • Mark Drakeford confirmed all primary and exam age pupils to return March 15 
  • He will announce no changes to stay-at-home order in lockdown update today

Wales presented Boris Johnson with a potential blueprint for England’s roadmap out of lockdown today as the First Minister revealed plans to allow holiday homes to open for Easter and have all primary school children back in class next month.

Mark Drakeford said his administration would take a ‘careful and cautious step-by-step approach’ to easing lockdown restrictions.

That approach includes potentially allowing self-contained accommodation including hotels and bed & breakfasts with room service, as well as caravans and lodges, to reopen in time for the Easter holidays at the start of April. 

He confirmed all Welsh primary school pupils and those facing exams will return to classrooms by March 15 so long as the Covid-19 situation ‘continues to improve.’ The first classrooms will reopen on Monday. 

Lockdown restrictions, which have been in place in Wales since December 20, will also be slightly eased to allow four people from two different households to exercise together from the middle of next month. 

Mr Drakeford said he hoped that stay-at-home rules would be lifted in three weeks’ time, when the Welsh Government formally reviews the regulations.

Some non-essential shops and personal services such as hairdressers could also reopen from March 15.

It comes as Mr Johnson prepares to reveal his plans for England on Monday, amid pressure on all sides over the timing of everything from schools reopening to pub rule son social distancing and Covid passports. 

From Saturday minor changes to rules will include allowing up to four people from two households being allowed to exercise together outdoors, but only if they live in the same area and begin their exercise ‘from their own front doors’ and return home.

Some elite athletes will also be allowed back into training, while licensed wedding venues other than registry offices and faith settings, which can already carry out weddings, will be allowed to operate to reopen.

Care home visiting rules will also be eased to allow more visits to take place.

But Mr Drakeford delivered bad news for gymgoers, saying there were no plans to reopen gyms in Wales at present due to advice from scientists that the Kent variant of Covid made doing so ‘more challenging’.   

First Minister Mark Drakeford will today announce there will be no further significant changes to the country’s level four restrictions – which have been in place since December 20 – as stay-at-home rules are extended once again. Pictured: Drakeford

When are schools expected to open across Britain? 

England

Boris Johnson has repeatedly said the Government will target March 8 to reopen schools across England. 

But it is still unclear exactly how the reopening will work, with the PM due to unveil his lockdown exit roadmap on Monday. 

The PM is said to want to see all pupils return on the same day but some union bosses are adamant there should be a phased return to classrooms, with the Health Secretary also said to be advocating a cautious approach. 

Scotland

The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed on February 16 that schools in Scotland will begin a phased reopening from Monday.

Pupils between the ages of four and eight will be the first to return to classes on that date.

No other pupils will return until at least 15 March, it was said. 

Wales

Children aged between three and seven will resume face-to-face classes in Wales from Monday.

There will also be returns for some vocational learners, including apprentices, to colleges in order to access training or workplace environments for their practical qualifications.

Mark Drakeford today confirmed that all primary school pupils as well as those in Years 11 and 13 could return from March 15.

Northern Ireland 

First Minister Arlene Foster said last month that schools in Northern Ireland will not reopen until at least March 8. 

Mr Drakeford said: ‘We reopened the tourism economy starting with self-contained accommodation last year, and I think the industry made a real success of that.

‘It did include, for example, hotels where people can be entirely self-contained.

‘That’s the test, that you have to have facilities that are not shared with other people.

‘Provided that is the case, then that is what we will be talking about.

‘But Easter is a long way off, and these are very preliminary discussions in the hope of, providing things continue to improve, we’d be in a position to begin the first steps of reopening that industry.’

Levels of Covid-19 in Wales are now at their lowest since September last year, with the country’s seven-day case rate now at 84 per 100,000 people, while one in three adults have received a vaccine.

The Welsh government closed schools to the majority of pupils amid growing fears about the Kent variant of coronavirus, which was blamed for the rise in cases seen before Christmas. 

Schools have since remained shut except to vulnerable children, and those whose parents are key workers. 

Mr Drakeford previously said that schools will look to use a mix of face-to-face teaching and online lessons when they do return to classrooms, with pupils only in school ‘some of the time’. 

However, the Labour leader also recently warned that schools could close again if cases rise following a further review into the restrictions which will take place on March 12. 

Authorities in Wales review the situation every 21 days, and the next review of regulations will consider reopening non-essential retail and close contact services like hair salons.

Non-essential retail has remained closed in Wales since Christmas Eve under tough level four restrictions which have been in place since the end of 2020.  

Public Health Wales yesterday said a total of 822,633 first doses of the vaccine had been given, an increase of 15,282 from the previous day, while second doses increased by 6,345 to a total of 19,342.

The agency also said there were a further 290 cases of Covid-19 in Wales, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 200,456.

It also reported another 14 deaths, taking the total in the country since the start of the pandemic to 5,189.

It comes as teachers in England warned mass-testing could mean some pupils won’t go back to school until April – as Boris Johnson continued to face backlash over his plans to reopen classrooms on March 8.

An academy chief was yesterday leading calls for a staggered return for pupils, insisting a secondary school with around 2,000 students would likely have to invite one year group back each week to carry out testing on such a scale.

Even if it did begin early next month as the Prime Minister proposes, such a process would not realistically be completed until the week of April 19, education bosses claim. 

The comments by Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis multi-academy trust which runs more than 50 schools nationwide, comes as Mr Johnson is facing opposition to his plan for widespread, simultaneous returns from teaching unions and Matt Hancock.

Mr Chalke told the Telegraph: ‘You need a waiting area, a testing area, a holding area, an administrative area and an isolation area for people who test positive.

‘You need to have someone in charge of it all, someone to assist with the testing, someone in charge of the collation of the data, someone in charge of the hosting area, someone in charge of waste disposal, someone to oversee the isolation area – it is quite an operation.’

A graph showing the number of vaccines per day in the UK. Over 16.4 million people have so far received at least one dose in the UK

The percentage of 70 to 74-year-olds who have been given their first dose of the vaccination

 Children aged between three and seven will resume face-to-face classes in Wales from Monday, after they were deemed the least likely to transmit coronavirus. Pictured: Stock image

It comes as teachers in England warned mass-testing could mean some pupils won’t go back to school until April – as Boris Johnson continued to face backlash over his plans to reopen classrooms on March 8

He added that schools would become ‘a medical centre’ if more than one year group was being brought in for testing at the same time. 

The Prime Minister has repeatedly said the Government will target March 8 to reopen schools across England. 

But it is still unclear exactly how the reopening will work, with the PM due to unveil his lockdown exit roadmap on Monday. 

The PM is said to want to see all pupils return on the same day but some union bosses are adamant there should be a phased return to classrooms, with the Health Secretary also said to be advocating a cautious approach. 

Elsewhere in Britain, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed on February 16 that schools in Scotland will begin a phased reopening from Monday.

Pupils between the ages of four and eight will be the first to return to classes on that date. No other pupils will return until at least 15 March, it was said. 

It is also understood that schools in Northern Ireland could reopen on March 8. 

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