STAFF and pupils at schools in Wales are being told to wear face masks due to recent developments in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Wales' Chief Medical Officer Dr Frank Atherton saidit is only a "matter of time" before the new Omicron variant is detected in Wales.

And, Heath Minister Eluned Morgan has said closing schools earlier for Christmas will be part of discussions to strengthen measures.

Now, Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, has announced that face coverings should be worn indoors in schools and colleges where social distancing can't be observed.

In a statement, he said: "The emergence of this new variant is a serious development in the ongoing pandemic. We have already taken swift action on international travel, alongside the other UK governments.

"We are now introducing an additional measure, while we learn more about this new strain. All staff and learners in our secondary schools, colleges and universities should now wear face coverings while indoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained. Many settings are already operating on this basis, guided by their local risk assessment, but this will now become a national approach. This is a temporary, precautionary measure that will be in place for the remaining weeks of term at which point the position will be reviewed. This should come into effect in all settings as soon as possible.

"Alongside this national approach to face coverings, all education settings will continue to operate with the Local Infection Control Decision Framework and the toolkit which allows them to take measures that best suit their local circumstances.

"Throughout the pandemic the Welsh Government’s priority has been to maximise learning and to minimise disruption for our young people. With three weeks left of term, it is vital that we ensure that learning can continue for as many learners as possible.

"There remains a lot we don’t know about this new variant. With this high level of uncertainty, it is right that we remain cautious while prioritising the continuation of education. It reinforces the need for everyone in Wales to get their vaccine or booster when offered, wear face coverings when necessary, and book a test if they develop symptoms.

"As if often the case during the pandemic, Ministerial decisions have been needed to be taken at pace. I will be writing to schools, colleges and universities tomorrow setting out this new guidance.

"We will continue to monitor the situation and encourage anyone who is eligible to take up the offer of vaccination to do so. The JCVI today published their latest advice and, in line with the other nations of the UK, we will begin operationalising this advice as quickly and as safely as possible. Staff and secondary learners should also make full use of the offer of LFT testing and follow the latest public health advice."

The WLGA (Welsh Local Government Association) has welcomed the reintroduction of face masks in secondary schools.

Councillor Ian Roberts (Flintshire), WLGA Education Spokesperson said: "I welcome the Minister's decision today to reintroduce face coverings in secondary school settings. This is a proportionate and sensible response to the emerging concerning situation and is being done in order to safeguard the wellbeing of pupils and all school staff."