Schools moved to high Covid alert levels in two areas of Wales as restrictions re-introduced

By Abbie Wightwick

All schools in two council areas have been moved to “high” Covid alert levels after rising levels locally of coronavirus - even though they don’t have the highest rates in Wales.

Schools in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot have been asked to re-introduce restrictions such as one way systems, social distancing and pupils facing to the front in classes.

All high schools in those council areas have been told that everyone must wear masks in communal areas, although not in lessons. Despite the new alert levels schools will not have to re-impose contact bubbles.

Students are also being encouraged to take twice weekly lateral flow tests.

Teaching unions have warned the restrictions in schools are not tough enough to keep Covid out. You can read more about that here.

Read more: Children aged 12 to 15 will be vaccinated against Covid in Wales and over 50s will get booster jab

Pupils are being asked to face to the front of the class again to avoid infection (Chris Fairweather/Huw Evans Agency)

Some high schools are understood to have relaxed requirements for pupils to wear masks in communal areas. They will now have to re-impose that rule.

In a joint statement Swansea and Neath Port Talbot councils and Swansea Bay University Health Board confirmed local education authorities have moved schools to the “high” risk level of the Welsh Government’s schools re-opening guidance which came in on September 1.

The framework suggests varying levels of restrictions depending on whether local risk of Covid is low, moderate, high or very high.

Dr Keith Reid, executive director of public health for the Swansea Bay region, said: “Covid has not gone away in our region or in Wales and levels of infection are now as high as last December. Schools are not themselves a high risk, but we are asking them to take steps to help prevent the continuing spread of the virus in the wider community.

“The current and sustained high level of Covid-19 infections in Swansea means we are asking schools to take action which is in line with the Welsh Government framework for education ‘High’ rating.

“Schools will now take steps as outlined in the national framework. The risk rating will be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that the approach in schools remains based on our local understanding of the situation.”

The joint statement released by Swansea Bay University Health Board said: “Due to the high number of people across the region testing positive for Covid-19, public health leaders are asking schools to retain a number of precautions that were in place before the summer in line with latest Welsh Government guidance.

“This means that pupils and staff at comprehensives will continue to be encouraged to take twice weekly LFT tests and be expected to wear face coverings indoors although not in classrooms.

“Face masks will also still be required on school transport.

“Schools are being asked to look at reintroducing one-way systems in corridors if they have stopped using them and to look at seating plans.

“Desks will be front-facing where practical and there will be no full school assemblies.

“But schools will not be returning to ‘bubble’ groups where whole year groups need to isolate if a positive case is recorded.

“Parents and carers are again being reminded that they should not send their children to school if they are unwell or have any of the coronavirus symptoms.”

Latest coronavirus figures for Wales on Monday, September 13 showed the county with the highest infection rate in Wales is Merthyr Tydfil with 760.9 cases per 100,000 population over seven days, followed by Carmarthenshire with 725.2 and Neath Port Talbot with 717.3.

In terms of new confirmed cases over the latest 48-hour period on September 13, the areas of the country worst affected are Cardiff with 430, Rhondda Cynon Taf with 393, Carmarthenshire with 341, Caerphilly with 325 and Swansea with 311.

Other areas with more than 100 new cases included Neath Port Talbot with 253, Vale of Glamorgan with 218, Newport with 187, Flintshire with 186, Conwy with 179, Powys with 163, Gwynedd with 161, Torfaen with 140, Bridgend and Wrexham both with 131, Denbighshire with 124, Blaenau Gwent with 116, Merthyr Tydfil with 115 and Pembrokeshire with 103.

The only local authorities reporting under 100 cases were Ceredigion with 71, Anglesey with 66 and Monmouthshire with 52.

The Welsh Government was asked to comment.

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