ALL primary school children in Wales will return to face-to-face teaching from mid-March provided the coronavirus situation in the country “continues to improve”, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

Mr Drakeford confirmed to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that children in the foundation phase of Welsh education – pupils aged between three and seven – would return to primary schools from Monday.

“I’ll be saying today that on Monday March 15, provided things continue to improve, all primary school children will be back in face-to-face education and those students in secondary schools who are facing examinations, we aim to get them back in the classroom as well,” Mr Drakeford said.

“And then we will carefully review as part of our deal with our teaching unions and local education authorities. We take a step, we collect the evidence, we decide what to do next.”

Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government would take a “careful and cautious step-by-step approach” to easing lockdown restrictions in Wales.

Wales’ lockdown rules will remain in place for at least another three weeks to allow a safe return to school for the country’s youngest pupils from Monday.

Foundation phase children aged between three and seven will resume face-to-face learning from next week, having been prioritised due to being least likely to transmit coronavirus and having greater difficulties with remote learning.

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.

Later today, First Minister Mark Drakeford will announce there will be no further significant changes to the country’s lockdown as stay-at-home rules are extended once again.

But the Welsh Labour leader will also say that all primary school pupils as well as older age groups in years 11 and 13, who have exams, could return from March 15 if the country’s public health situation continues to improve.

Mr Drakeford previously told the PA news agency that older primary and secondary schools will look to use blended learning when they do return to classrooms, with pupils only in school “some of the time” by mixing face-to-face teaching with online lessons.

The next review of regulations in three weeks’ time will also consider reopening non-essential retail and close contact services like hair salons.

Levels of Covid-19 in Wales are now at their lowest since the end of 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.

On Thursday, Public Health Wales 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.