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Schools in Wales to remain closed until January 18
4 January 2021, 18:06 | Updated: 4 January 2021, 18:55
Schools in Wales will remain closed until January 18, the Welsh Education Minister has announced.
Kirsty Williams said the Welsh Government would use the next two weeks to work with local authorities and education settings to "best plan for the rest of the term".
The government had previously arranged for schools to have flexibility over the first two weeks of the spring term, allowing them to choose when students would return to in-person learning.
In a statement, Ms Williams said the decision to move to online learning only until January 18 had been taken in consultation with the Welsh Local Government Association and Colegau Cymru.
It followed the four chief medical officers agreeing that the UK was at the "highest level of risk" in terms of coronavirus, she confirmed.
In a statement, the Welsh Government said: "We will use the next two weeks to continue to work with local authorities, schools and colleges to best plan for the rest of term.
"This is the best way to ensure that parents, staff and learners can be confident in the return to face to face learning, based on the latest evidence and information.
Important: @WelshGovernment, in consultation with the @WelshLGA & @ColegauCymru, has just agreed that all schools and colleges will move to online learning until Monday January 18th.— Kirsty Williams (@wgmin_education) January 4, 2021
Please watch & share this video to help make others aware.
Further information in thread below. pic.twitter.com/wmb9B3T1zn
"Schools and colleges will remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as for learners who need to complete essential exams or assessments.
"We had already ensured that schools had full flexibility in the first two weeks of term to decide when to reopen based on local circumstances.
"But it is now clear that a national approach of online learning for the next fortnight is the best way to contribute to reducing the transmission of coronavirus."
"We know that schools and colleges have been safe and secure environments throughout the pandemic and that continues to be the case.
"However, we also know that education settings being open can contribute to wider social mixing outside the school and college environment.
"We are confident that schools and colleges have online learning provision in place for this immediate period, and this will also be important in ensuring that students are at home during this time, learning and staying safe."
Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford tweeted: "There's a new highly contagious strain of coronavirus strain circulating in our communities.
"All school and college students will learn online for the next fortnight. This is the best way to help reduce the spread of this deadly virus."
There’s a new highly contagious strain of coronavirus strain circulating in our communities. All school and college students will learn online for the next fortnight. This is the best way to help reduce the spread of this deadly virus. https://t.co/ganNoRKsQ6— Mark Drakeford (@fmwales) January 4, 2021
Earlier on Wednesday, health minister Vaughan Gething said the new Covid-19 variant is "spreading quickly throughout Wales."
He told a press conference that cases of coronavirus in Wales "remain very high", though rates have fallen back from "incredibly high levels" seen before Christmas.
"The overall incidence rate for Wales has fallen from a high of 636 cases per 100,000 people on December 17 to 446 cases today," Mr Gething said.
"This is still far too high. There have been falls in most parts of Wales, except in North Wales, where we are seeing cases rise quickly. We believe this is because of the new fast-moving strain.
"It's too early to know if these falls are because of the Christmas period and fewer people coming forward for testing or if they are early, positive signs of a sustained slowing of this awful virus."
Mr Gething said that while the number of people being tested had fallen, the testing positivity rate across Wales was 25%.
There are almost 2,700 coronavirus-related patients in hospitals across Wales, over 100 of which are in critical care.
"Very sadly we have seen an increase in the number of people who are dying after contracting coronavirus over the Christmas period," Mr Gething said.