Mark Drakeford’s roadmap for easing Covid rules in Wales
Wales will move from alert level two to alert level zero over the next two weeks.
Restrictions will be eased as part of a phased approach.
The changes will be dependent on the public health situation continuing to improve.
– The number of people allowed at outdoor events will rise from 50 to 500.
FRIDAY JANUARY 21
– Wales will move to alert level zero for all outdoor activities so there will be no limits on the number of people who can take part.
– Crowds will be able to return to outdoor sporting events, with no limits.
– Outdoor hospitality will be able to operate without additional ‘reasonable measures’.
– The Covid Pass will be required for entry to large outdoor events.
FRIDAY JANUARY 28
– Alert level zero will apply to all indoor activities, with nightclubs able to re-open.
– The Covid Pass will be required for entry to nightclubs, events, cinemas, concert halls and theatres.
– The rule of six, table service and 2m physical distancing will no longer be required in hospitality settings.
– Working from home will no longer be a legal requirement but will ‘remain important’.
– Self-isolation and face covering rules will remain in place after January 28.
– A review of the situation will be held every three weeks, starting from February 10.
Mark Drakeford today announced all major coronavirus restrictions will be lifted in Wales over the next 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 today, 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 used 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.
The easing of restrictions will start tomorrow when the number of people who can attend outdoor events will rise from 50 to 500.
The second stage of relaxing the rules will take place on Friday January 21 when the limit on the number of people who can attend outdoor events will be lifted entirely.
This will allow crowds to return to outdoor sporting events and outdoor hospitality to operate without additional ‘reasonable measures’. The Covid Pass will be required for entry to large outdoor events.
The final stage of relaxing the rules will then take place on Friday January 28 when the remaining curbs on indoor activities will be lifted.
The rule of six, table service and 2m social distancing will no longer be required in hospitality. This will allow nightclubs to reopen.
The Covid Pass will be required for entry to nightclubs, events, cinemas, concert halls and theatres. Meanwhile, the legal requirement to work from home will be dropped.
Self-isolation rules for people who test positive for Covid and the wearing of face masks in most public indoor settings will remain in force after January 28 with all measures then due to be reviewed every three weeks, starting from February 10.
Mr Drakeford today declared that ‘we appear to have passed the peak of Omicron’ but he cautioned that ‘this doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over’ and there ‘could be some difficult days and weeks still ahead’.
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 had 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.
Mark Drakeford today announced all major coronavirus restrictions will be lifted in Wales over the next two weeks as he faced accusations of ‘overreacting’ to the Omicron wave
Official data up to January 5 shows the number of Covid cases per 100,000 people is decreasing in England, Scotland and Wales
What is alert level zero?
Alert level zero applied in Wales from August 7 last year.
There were no legal limits on the number of people who can meet, including in private homes, public places and at events.
All businesses and hospitality premises were allowed to open without restrictions.
Some protections remained in place, with businesses required to undertake specific coronavirus risk assessments and to take ‘reasonable measures’ to stop the spread of the disease.
Meanwhile, adults and children aged 11 and over had to continue to wear face coverings in indoor public places, with the exception of hospitality settings.
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.
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.
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.
Mr Drakeford said at his press conference at lunchtime that the measures he had imposed on Boxing Day ‘combined with the Christmas and New Year bank holidays have acted as a mini-firebreak and have helped us to flatten the curve of infections’.
He said: ‘Today we are in the optimistic place of being able to take those first steps back to alert level zero and we are able to do it only because of the amazing hard work and effort of everyone in Wales who has once again followed all the rules and taken all the steps to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.’
However, Mr Drakeford also cautioned that there could be ‘some difficult days and weeks still ahead’.
He said: ‘This doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over. Omicron is still here in Wales. The levels of coronavirus, though falling, are still too high in our communities and there could be some difficult days and weeks still ahead as we continue to respond to the coronavirus crisis.
‘But today’s evidence is that we are able to move further and faster into those brighter days that we hope lie ahead for us all.’
The First Minister rejected the claim that he had ‘overreacted’ to Omicron, telling reporters: ‘What the actual figures show… is that the measures we took in Wales were both necessary and effective.’
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.