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Glimpse of Spring sunshine as First Minister presents roadmap out of restrictions

The First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford MS has presented a roadmap out of restrictions for the coming months. In his latest press conference the First Minister set out a number of steps which could see restrictions lifted with a big ‘IF’ things continue to improve.

He detailed the changes in the following address:

Last week, I described how the public health situation had deteriorated rapidly over the Christmas and New Year period, as the omicron wave arrived.

Over the course of this week, we have seen some early, positive signs of improvement, which suggest the measures we have taken are working and give us hope we may be turning a corner.

Today, I want to set out our plan to return to alert level zero, provided this week’s positive trend continues.

We will review the data regularly and carefully because this remains a very fast-moving situation and – as we have seen over the last six weeks – things can change very quickly.

You can see this in the two slides I am going to show you now.

As soon as the omicron wave struck, cases rose very quickly across Wales.

Last week, I showed you that latest modelling evidence we have for Wales.

It suggested the omicron wave would rise very quickly and then fall back very quickly too.

As you can see, this is what appears to be happening in practice.

The numbers have begun to fall back from the record high levels.

We need to be a bit careful with these figures because these case rates are based on the number of people who have had a positive PCR test.

We changed the testing rules a week ago, so most people no longer need to have a follow-up PCR test if they have had a positive lateral flow test.

This reduces the number of people having positive PCR tests.

But, the fall in cases we are seeing started a few days before this change to testing and the positivity rate is also falling.

Because of the changes to the testing regime, we need to look at a wider range of measures to see how the omicron wave is behaving.

The wastewater studies carried out throughout the pandemic, suggest the extremely high level of infections in the community could be starting to slow down.

We can also look at the ONS Infection Survey, which show a similar pattern.

The latest results are shown on this slide.

Just like the Public Health Wales case rate data from the first slide, you can see how sharply infections have grown at the start of the omicron wave in December and into January.

But the increase in Wales – shown by the red line – has been smaller than in England – which is shown by green red line.

In fact infections in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – where more protective measures were put in place – are lower than in England.

And there are some signs that the growth in infections in Wales is slowing down.

The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 is now just over 1,100.

But even here there are some very early positive signs.

The total number of Covid-19 patients in hospital is starting to fall and the rate of admissions has been falling gradually for more than a week.

The other reason we can be increasingly positive is the success of our vaccination programme.

We have now delivered more than 1.8m boosters and third doses.

Since the start of December, we have had fastest roll-out of the booster programme in the UK. Our fantastic vaccination teams have given boosters and third doses to more than 32% of people over-12.

This enormous effort has given us all extra protection against omicron.

It is never too late to be vaccinated. I would encourage everyone to have their vaccination – whether it’s their first, second or booster.

We introduced alert level two measures on Boxing Day to help protect people, to keep as many businesses open as possible and to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.

Those measures, combined with the Christmas bank holidays, have acted as a firebreak and have helped to flatten the curve of infections and give us more time to vaccinate more people.

Because of the crisis, we moved to a weekly review of those measures so we could make sure they were always proportionate to the public health risk.

Now, in this week’s review, the Cabinet has agreed a plan to take us back to alert level zero, if we continue to see the public health situation improve over the next few weeks.

We will do this in a careful and phased way, as we have throughout the pandemic.

This will allow us to make sure the early signs of improvement continue before we make further changes.

We will continue to closely monitor cases in the community and their impact on staff absences and especially on schools – we will do all we can to support face-to-face learning for children and students in schools.

We are making one immediate change. From tomorrow, the number of people who can be present at outdoor events will rise from 50 to 500.

If the public health situation continues to improve, we will make further changes.

From Friday 21 January, all outdoor activities will move to alert level zero.
This means there will be no limits on the number of people who can take part in outdoor activities.
Crowds will return to outdoor sporting events.
Outdoor hospitality will be able to operate without additional reasonable measures.
The Covid Pass will be required for entry to larger outdoor events.

From Friday 28 January, we will move to alert level zero for all indoor activities and premises.
Nightclubs will be able to re-open
Working from home will remain important but it will no longer be a legal requirement
The Covid Pass will continue to be required to enter large events, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and concert halls.

On 10 February we will return to the three-week review cycle of the coronavirus regulations and we will review all the protections in place.

Today, we are taking our first steps back to alert level zero.

We can do this because of the hard work and effort of everyone in Wales who has once again followed all the rules and taken all the steps to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

And it is thanks to the enormous efforts of all those working in our vaccination centres; in our NHS; in our public services; in shops and businesses who have done so much to protect us from this awful virus.

Thank you.

Thank you for keeping us all safe.

This doesn’t mean the pandemic is over – omicron is still with us and levels of coronavirus are still incredibly high in our communities.

There will be some difficult days and weeks as we continue to response to omicron but we know there will be many more brighter days ahead for us all.

Diolch o galon i chi gyd.


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