Wales to scrap ALL Covid curbs in two weeks after claims it over-reacted to Omicron
‘It is not a U-turn!’ Mark Drakeford defends strict Welsh Covid curbs and confirms they will ALL be lifted in two weeks – seven days after warning the ‘storm is fully upon us’ – as he claims damage to hospitality is NOT his fault
Wales is set to move from alert level two to alert level zero by the end of January
Restrictions on outdoor events will be eased first in two-week phased approach
Under current rules, only six people can meet in pubs, restaurants and cinemas
First Minister will hold a press conference at midday to announce the roadmap
Wales moved to alert level zero on August 7 last year.
During that period, there were no limits on the number of people who could meet and all businesses could remain open.
Some rules were legally kept in force, including businesses and employers undertaking a specific coronavirus risk assessment, a 10-day isolation period for anyone who tested positive for Covid, and people aged 11 or over had to wear face coverings in some indoor settings – except restaurants, pubs, cafes or nightclubs.
The self-isolation period has since been reduced to seven days in Wales.
It is not yet known whether alert level zero measures this month will be the same as those from August.
Mark Drakeford today confirmed all major coronavirus restrictions will be lifted in Wales in two weeks as he faced accusations of ‘overreacting’ to the Omicron wave.
The Welsh Government will reopen nightclubs, end the rule of six in pubs and lift the 50-person limit on outdoor events.
Mr Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, had warned just one week ago on January 7 that the Omicron ‘storm is fully upon us’ as he predicted the peak would not arrive for ‘another 10 to 14 days’.
He also slammed Boris Johnson’s decision not to impose similarly tough restrictions in England as he branded the neighbouring country an ‘outlier’.
But speaking this morning, Mr Drakeford said case numbers are now ‘coming down very rapidly’ as he rejected accusations of a U-turn.
He also dismissed claims that his restrictions had caused massive damage to Welsh hospitality firms, saying: ‘The impact on Welsh businesses doesn’t come from the actions of government, it comes because of the huge impact of the Omicron wave that we have seen.’
Mr Drakeford will use a press conference at lunchtime to set out his plan for Wales to move from alert level two to alert level zero by the end of January if the public health situation continues to improve.
Restrictions on outdoor activities will be eased first before then moving onto the other rules which were imposed on Boxing Day.
Under the current measures, the rule of six applies to pubs, restaurants and cinemas, while outdoor events are restricted to 50 people, and to 30 indoors.
Restrictions also include mask-wearing in all public venues and the two-metre rule while nightclubs have been forced to shut.
Speaking this morning, Mr Drakeford said: ‘We appear to have passed the peak of Omicron.’
Wales’ coronavirus case rate recently fell to 1,492.4 per 100,000 people over seven days – its lowest level since December 27.
The total number of people admitted to critical care with the virus is also 20 per cent of that recorded over the same period in January last year.
Mr Drakeford has been under growing political pressure to roll back his curbs, with Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, accusing his Labour counterpart of ‘overreacting’ to Omicron.
Responding to Mr Drakeford’s latest announcement, the Welsh Conservatives said they are glad he has ‘finally listened to calls’ to lift restrictions.
First Minister Mark Drakeford (pictured on December 22) will hold a press conference at midday on Friday to announce the two-week roadmap following a review of the rules
Official data up to January 5 shows the number of Covid cases per 100,000 people is decreasing in England, Scotland and Wales
What are the Covid restrictions in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland?
Large events are limited to 11 people standing indoors, 200 people sitting indoors and 500 people outdoors.
Allowing staff to work from home where possible has become a legal duty on employers.
People aged 12 and over must wear face coverings in indoor settings such as shops, hospitality venues and public transport. People should also wear masks in outdoor crowded areas.
Nicola Sturgeon has said restrictions on outdoor events will be lifted next Monday.
She added that all measures, including the closure of nightclubs, could be lifted from January 24.
Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said nightclubs will be closed from 6am on December 26.
Dancing will also be prohibited in hospitality venues, but this will not apply to weddings.
People must remain seated for table service, while table numbers will be limited to six.
First Minister Paul Givan has said the Stormont Executive could begin lifting some restrictions by next week.
Boris Johnson’s Plan B measures remain in place.
Face masks are compulsory in a variety of indoor settings and on public transport.
Covid passes are required for entry to large events.
Workers who are able to work from home are encouraged to do so.
Mr Drakeford told a press conference last Friday that the Omicron ‘storm’ had hit Wales.
He said the variant was now the ‘dominant form of the virus in the country and cases are rising rapidly every day’.
‘Unlike previous waves, which have lasted many months, we believe this one will be short-lived,’ he said.
‘This is because of the speed Omicron is moving at. We haven’t reached the peak of this wave yet. This could be another 10 to 14 days away.’
But Mr Drakeford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that Wales has now passed the peak level of Omicron infections.
Asked why he is lifting restrictions now, he said: ‘Because the data and the science is saying to us that as the modelling we had in Wales predicted, we appear to have passed the peak of Omicron and are coming down very rapidly on the other side.
‘And that gives us confidence that over the next two weeks we can gradually and carefully lift the level of protections we have needed over the Christmas and New Year period because from a public health perspective it will then be safe to do so.’
Asked if the tough rules in Wales were really necessary and told that he appeared to have changed his mind quite quickly, he said: ‘I said last Friday that it would take another couple of weeks before we could come out of this wave and it is in two weeks’ time that we will have lifted the restrictions.
‘What we are seeing is a very rapid decline in the number of cases in Wales.
‘Last Friday it was 2,300 per 100,000 of the Welsh population, today only a week later it is 1,200 – a really rapid decline, backed up by other measures that we are seeing in Wales.
‘That is what gives us the space to be able to lift some of the protections we have had and it is because of those protections that we are in the more benign position we are in today.’
The imposition of new rules on socialising in Wales after Christmas prompted a furious response from pubs, bars and restaurants.
UKHospitality Cymru had warned firms were already ‘battered and bruised and at the end of their tether’ because of a collapse in customer numbers and said the latest rules would ‘only make matters worse’.
But Mr Drakeford today rejected the suggestion that the rules had come at a huge cost to businesses.
He said: ‘The impact on Welsh businesses doesn’t come from the actions of government, it comes because of the huge impact of the Omicron wave that we have seen.’
It was pointed out to Mr Drakeford that Mr Johnson had chosen a more relaxed approach in England and Wales could potentially have done the same.
But he said: ‘The government of England has been paralysed throughout this process and simply hasn’t been able to take decisions.’
Finally, Mr Drakeford was told that he appeared to be making a U-turn under pressure – a suggestion he rejected.
He said: ‘Not at all. It is really the opposite of that. What we do in Wales is we follow the science, we follow the data, we make difficult decisions when that is necessary and because of those difficult decisions and most of all because of the fantastic way in which people in Wales have followed that advice, have stuck with the difficult things, we are now able to plot a path out of this and back to level zero.’
The leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Mr Davies, said: ‘I’m pleased they’ve finally listened to calls from the Welsh Conservatives.
‘Despite the detailed scientific evidence from South Africa, Labour ministers clearly overreacted to Omicron, and that has caused significant pain and anguish for families and businesses in Wales.
‘The British booster campaign has been a resounding success and as such Labour should now move swiftly and remove restrictions as we get on the road to recovery and as a nation learn to live with Covid.’
The easing of restrictions on outdoor activities should mean that Six Nations Rugby matches, due to start next month, can go ahead in the country.
Pressure had been mounting from sports organisations and fans, with many fearing games would have to be held across the border in England.
In a statement released last night, the Welsh government said: ‘The First Minister will tomorrow set out how Wales plans to move back to alert level zero if the public health situation continues to improve.
‘Mark Drakeford will set out the two-week plan to ease the alert level two restrictions which have been in place since Boxing Day at his press conference.
‘The Welsh Government is able to start removing the protections put in place in response to the Omicron wave, thanks to the support of people across Wales and the successful booster campaign – more than 1.75million people have had the extra booster dose.’
Meanwhile in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has said restrictions on outdoor events will be lifted next Monday.
She added that all measures, including the closure of nightclubs, could be lifted from January 24.
And in Northern Ireland, First Minister Paul Givan said the Stormont Executive could begin lifting some coronavirus restrictions by next week.