Coronavirus morning headlines as the youngest schoolchildren return to the classroom for the first time this year

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Here are the coronavirus morning headlines for Monday, February 22, as the youngest schoolchildren in Wales return to school for the first time in nine weeks.

It is the first step towards re-opening schools in Wales, with the rest of primary schoolchildren and examination stage children due to return on March 15.

Today, children aged three to seven will start a phased return to face-to-face teaching, along with some students on practical college courses.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams said on Sunday she hoped more pupils would return if cases continued falling. She will be taking the latest coronavirus briefing as 12.15pm on Monday (February 22).

The return comes as a WalesOnline survey which asked people how they felt about easing lockdown restrictions and children returning to school found 41% felt it was too soon for children to be returning to school. However, 39% said they were “absolutely” comfortable with their child going back and a fifth said they want their children to return but were not convinced it’s safe. All results here.

Ms Williams said the next review would look at whether older exam year pupils could return, alongside the remaining primary school year groups.

That includes Years 11 and 13, and college students.

She said: “Our priority will be to use whatever headroom we have to maximise face-to-face learning for Years 11 and 13, and many head teachers that we’re consulting with would like some flexibility to get some Year 10 and Year 12 students in as well.

“But we might have to do that on a routine basis, allowing us to cut the number of children in the class down, helping to keep those schools as Covid-secure as possible.”

The latest cases for coronavirus in Wales

A further 16 people in Wales have died after testing positive for coronavirus – the same figure as the two previous days.

Figures from Public Health Wales published on Sunday reveal that 336 new cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the latest 24-hour period, similar to the 363 which were reported on Saturday. This brings the total since the start of the pandemic to 201,688.

The number of people to have died with coronavirus in Wales within a month of a positive test now stands at 5,237.

The infection rate across Wales remains 83 per 100,000 population based on the seven days up to February 15. Infection rates have reduced to levels not seen since September.

The latest data also shows that 860,183 people have now received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, up 6,279 from the figure of 853,904 published 24 hours earlier.

Meanwhile, 37,773 people have now received both doses of the vaccine, a rise from 32,002 yesterday. Details for your area here.

Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown in England to be unveiled

Meanwhile, it is being reported that schools, socialising and some sports are set to return next month under the UK Government’s plan to relax coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell MPs that all pupils in all years can go back to the classroom from March 8, with outdoor after-school sports and activities allowed to restart as well, the Press Association news agency understands.

Socialising in parks and public spaces with one other person will also be permitted in a fortnight when the rules are relaxed to allow people to sit down for a drink or picnic. On Friday, First Minister Mark Drakeford relaxed the rules in Wales to allow four people from two different households to be able to meet locally for exercise.

A further easing of restrictions will take place on March 29 when the school Easter holidays begin – with larger groups allowed to gather in parks and gardens.

The “rule of six” will return along with new measures allowing two households totalling more than six people to meet – giving greater flexibility for families and friends.

Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis and basketball courts are also set to reopen at the end of next month.

And organised adult and children’s sport – including grassroots football – can return from March 29.

However, Number 10 insisted that the “stay at home” message would remain in place despite the relaxation of some restrictions.

The measures form the first of four steps in the road map which the Prime Minister is set to outline in a statement to the Commons on Monday afternoon.

He has stressed the need to relax restrictions in a “cautious” manner, saying that the Government would make decisions based on the latest data at every step.

Ministers will assess the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence of vaccine efficacy, new variants and infection rates before proceeding to the next step.

The tests are currently being met, Downing Street said, allowing the first relaxation to take place on March 8.

Pressure to ease measures more quickly

Now that one in three adults in the UK have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, Boris Johnson will face pressure from some Tory MPs to ease measures more quickly.

Conservative Mark Harper, leader of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown-sceptic backbenchers, said on Sunday that all legal restrictions put in place in response to the pandemic should be lifted by the end of April.

However, scientists have urged caution, with leading epidemiologist Professor John Edmunds warning that any easing of the lockdown must be gradual to prevent a surge in hospital admissions and deaths.

And the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said Mr Johnson should not to “bow” to political pressure and dilute public messaging in the road map.

Teaching union NASUWT, meanwhile, issued a fresh call for education staff to be prioritised for vaccines in the second phase of the rollout as schools reopen.

An announcement on the vaccine priority order for under-50s is expected to be made this week, Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said on Sunday.

Restrictions will be relaxed step-by-step across the whole of England at the same time, Downing Street confirmed, due to the current uniform spread of the virus.

Number 10 said the road map would seek to balance the health needs with the social and economic impacts of lockdown.

For example, outdoor activities are set to be opened earlier than indoor ones, due to the reduced risk of spreading coronavirus outside.

MPs will be given the chance to vote on the regulations enabling the road map in the coming weeks.

Mr Johnson will chair a virtual meeting of his Cabinet on Monday morning to discuss the plan, and then unveil the details to Parliament in the afternoon.

He is expected to host a Downing Street press conference at 7pm on Monday alongside key advisers.

The road map will also contain previously announced plans for care home residents to hold hands with a nominated loved one from March 8.

And it will include the Government’s new target to offer vaccines to all adults by the end of July – as well as those aged over 50, and higher risk groups, by April 15.

The road map will pave the way for the first easing of restrictions since England’s third national lockdown was announced on January 4.

Cases for your area by postcode:

Chancellor urged to extend business rates relief to save theatres and museums

The Chancellor must extend temporary business rates relief to save hundreds of theatres, museums, galleries and cinemas, Labour has said.

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed urged Rishi Sunak to give businesses “certainty” and reduce the risk of losing both jobs and cultural institutions.

He said Mr Sunak should immediately announce an extension to the policy which, Labour estimates, could save a typical property subject to business rates an average of £53,000 over six months.

The party said 1,800 theatres, museums, galleries and cinemas would benefit, as well as high streets.

Labour is also calling for the temporary 5% reduced rate of VAT for the hospitality, tourism and culture sectors to continue for another six months or until three months after the lifting of restrictions.

Mr Reed said: “Theatres, galleries, cinemas and museums are the cultural heartbeat of our town centres but they are under threat as never before because of this Government’s incompetence and economic mismanagement.

“The Chancellor’s dither and delay has created uncertainty for businesses, cost jobs and threatened our recovery, despite Labour’s repeated calls to provide businesses with breathing space by extending the business rate holiday and the VAT cut for hospitality and leisure.

“Britain can’t afford the Chancellor to make the same irresponsible mistake all over again. He must give businesses certainty and reduce the risk of losing both jobs and life-enhancing cultural institutions.”

Parents interrupted by children as they try to work from home

Working parents will be able to relate to this report.

New research had found that parents are being interrupted up to 10 times a day by their children as they try to juggle work with home-schooling.

Jobs site Glassdoor said its study among 2,000 parents having to work from home showed that few are working uninterrupted or at peak production.

More than two out of five respondents said they believed they were not doing a good job for their employer.

Even those who claim to be productive from home estimated they were less than 70% as productive as in the office.

A typical home worker disrupted by their children is interrupted on average six times a day, with 13% of employees surveyed being interrupted 10 times a day, said the report.

Two out of five of those surveyed said they regularly ignore their children during the working week because they need to get on with their job, and a similar number believed their children’s attainment levels have dropped during the current national lockdown.

Almost two thirds of employees working from home want their children to go back to school as soon as possible and two out of five said there was not enough space at home for everyone to work and study at the same time. Survey shows how people uncomfortable with schools returning.



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