No plans to reopen schools in Wales, education minister says

There are no plans to reopen schools in Wales before the end of the summer term, the country’s education minister has said.

Kirsty Williams said, though no timetable to resume statutory education had been drawn up, continuing social distancing measures meant it would “not be business as usual” for pupils and staff when they eventually do return.

Wales’ daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday came before the country recorded its highest number of deaths yet from people who had tested positive for Covid-19, after a further 60 brought the total to 463.

At the briefing Ms Williams suggested Wales could follow countries in Europe like Denmark with phased reopening of schools starting with younger children in primary education.

She said: “Schools in Wales will not open for statutory education next week, and a change to that is not imminent.

“It will only happen when the science and medical evidence say it is safe to do so.”

Asked if schools could open before the end of the summer term, Ms Williams said it would not be helpful to speculate, but said when they did restrictions including social distancing would most likely have to continue.

“It’s quite clear to me that when schools reopen it won’t be business as usual,” she said.

“We maybe in the position of part of the school cohort going back.

“If we look at other countries in Europe it’s just their youngest children.

“Some of those we’d usually see in our primary schools going back.”

She added: “As I understand it, social distancing practices are probably due to continue for a considerable period of time.

“And that causes some real practical challenges in terms of school transport, in terms of parents at the school gate, and the ability to accommodate the cohort within confines of a classroom. But that work and that thinking is ongoing.”

Ms Williams also responded to questions about the Welsh Government’s failure to increase the amount of testing for key workers from 1,300 every day to 5,000 after it previously said it would do so.

She said: “We will continue to work as hard as we can to ensure that capacity is what it needs to be as me move forward.”

She added: “There are clear plans in place to develop that testing capacity.”

Following the briefing Public Health Wales announced 60 further deaths, the country’s highest number recorded in a single day, while 272 new cases who tested positive for Covid-19 had brought the total of confirmed cases to 6,118, although the true number of cases is likely to be higher.

Dr Giri Shankar, from Public Health Wales, said: “Sixty further deaths have been reported to us of people who had tested positive for novel coronavirus, taking the number of deaths in Wales to 463.

“We are aware that the number of deaths reported today is regrettably much higher than yesterday, however it is worth noting that day-to-day fluctuations are to be expected.”

Earlier the Welsh Government blamed a “processing error” after thousands of letters warning people with underlying health conditions to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic were sent to the wrong addresses.

Some 75,000 people in Wales have been identified as being at very high risk of severe illness from Covid-19 and were advised to stay at home for 12 weeks.

But 13,000 letters, from Wales’ chief medical officer, went to previous addresses of the intended recipients.

The Government apologised and said all the letters have been reissued, but Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Delyth Jewell said some of the most vulnerable people in Wales had been put in “unnecessary danger”.

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