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First Minister steadfast in reliance on modelling despite calls from the opposition to provide a Road Map out of restrictions

The First Minister highlighted that the pressure staff absences, winter pressures and a rise in COVID cases, have led to significant challenges for health boards across Wales. Speaking at the first session of First Minister’s Questions today, Tuesday (Jan 11) He said: “All health boards, including those in the south-east, have plans in place to increase physical capacity and align available human resources with the most urgent clinical needs.”

Leader of the opposition Andrew RT Davies MS criticised the First Minister over what he called ‘farcial scenes at a rugby match in Caerphilly and questioned the validity of the restrictions.

Mr Davies said: Over the Christmas period, we saw the farcical scenes at Caerphilly rugby club where only 50 people were allowed to watch the game outside, whereas several hundred congregated indoors to watch it on tv. Your latest restrictions have sadly also made activities such as parkruns practically impossible to organise. To many people, even those who have historically supported your decisions and restrictions, this doesn’t seem to make sense and certainly doesn’t follow the science that we’ve seen to date. Will you listen to these legitimate concerns, First Minister, and make the necessary changes at this week’s review?

Mr Drakeford replied: “I don’t agree with quite a lot of what he just said. All the actions that the Welsh Government takes are those recommended to us and endorsed by our clinical and scientific advisers. This is a Government that follows the science, does not spend its time trying to pressurise scientists into giving us advice that will be politically convenient for us. Nor do I agree with him that it is practically impossible to do some of the things he said; I see many, many people running in the park in organised groups within the current level of protections. Fifty people can get together with 50 other people helping to organise themselves into such activity, and many, many people are taking advantage of that. We will keep the protections under review. As soon as we get advice that it is safe to do so, then of course we will want to begin to reverse the journey we’ve had to be on while Wales is in the teeth of the omicron storm.

Mr Davies continued to focus on how the restrictions were having an impact on sport and business in Wales and accused the First Minister of being an outlier on the issue of parkruns, which are going ahead in other parts of the U.K.

He said: “In England, there are no restrictions on crowd numbers, in Northern Ireland, caps on crowds are at 50 per cent capacity or 5,000 people, whilst changes seem to be afoot in Scotland. Yesterday, the Scottish national clinical director said that crowd limits seem to have had little difference to their case numbers. With the six nations around the corner, which is an important part of the business model for many Welsh businesses, particularly the Welsh Rugby Union, it is vital you provide them with a clear sense of direction of travel. Given that you are in receipt of the latest modelling and advice, can you confirm, or at the very least give an indication, as to when fans will be able to return to Welsh stadiums?”

The First Minister said that the peak of the virus was yet to happen in Wales but said that the good news was that modelling showed it would also decline rapidly afterwards.

He said: “Once we are in a position of knowing that Wales has passed the peak, that the impact that it is having on our public services, on workers in the private sector, on the ability of our health service to deal with the growing numbers of people in a hospital bed because of coronavirus, then we will want, as quickly but as safely as possible, to begin to relax some of the protections that have been necessary while the omicron wave was still coming at us, but we’re not at that point. We’re not at that point today. Now, we will review the data, as we do every day and every week, and next week will be the end of a three-week review period. If we are very fortunate, and it’s a very big ‘if’, and we find that we have passed that peak and we are on a reliable reduction in impact of coronavirus upon us, then we will look to see what we can do, as I say, to relax some of the protections that we’ve had to put in place. But we will not do it until we are confident that the scientific and medical advice to us is that it is safe to move in that direction.

The Leader of the opposition did not yield in his calls for a road map out of restrictions for Wales. He said: “Restrictions were imposed in Wales based on the modelling and therefore you should be basing that further removal on the modelling. You have no excuses not to provide such a plan, First Minister. It is vital for businesses that are feeling the pain with limits on hospitality and mental health taking a kicking with sports being scaled back that a plan out of these restrictions is brought forward by your Government. Can you therefore confirm today that you will listen to these calls and provide a road map out of the restrictions at your review on Friday?

The First Minister reiterated that Welsh Government would follow the modelling. He said: “Once we are in a position where we are confident that we are past the peak and that the numbers are indeed falling, that will be the point at which we are able to set out, as of course we would want to do, a plan for reducing some of the protections that are currently in place, because then the numbers in Wales will be improving, not worsening. The model tells us that we’re likely to see them worsening over the next week, and in those circumstances, it simply would not be responsible to think that this is the moment at which you would begin to remove the protections that are helping to save people from this virus, keep more people in work, lessen the pressures on the NHS. Those are the reasons we take actions here in Wales, and we will not be diverted from doing so.”

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