Present (via Teams)
- Rt. Hon. Mark Drakeford MS (Chair)
- Rebecca Evans MS
- Vaughan Gething MS
- Lesley Griffiths MS
- Julie James MS
- Eluned Morgan MS
- Jeremy Miles MS
- Ken Skates MS
- Kirsty Williams MS
- Jane Hutt MS
- Hannah Blythyn MS
- Julie Morgan MS
- Dafydd Elis Thomas MS
- Lee Waters MS
- Shan Morgan, Permanent Secretary
- Des Clifford, Director General Office of the First Minister
- Carys Evans, Principal Private Secretary to the First Minister
- Will Whiteley, Deputy Director Cabinet Division
- Toby Mason, Head of Strategic Communications
- Jane Runeckles, Special Adviser
- Madeleine Brindley, Special Adviser
- Alex Bevan, Special Adviser
- Dan Butler, Special Adviser
- Ian Butler, Special Adviser
- Kate Edmunds, Special Adviser
- Sara Faye, Special Adviser
- Paul Griffiths, Special Adviser
- Clare Jenkins, Special Adviser
- Andrew Johnson, Special Adviser
- Gareth Williams, Special Adviser
- Mitch Theaker, Special Adviser
- Tom Woodward, Special Adviser
- Christopher W Morgan, Cabinet Secretariat (minutes)
- Damian Roche, Cabinet Secretariat
- Jonathan Scourfield, Specialist Policy Adviser
- Dewi Knight, Specialist Policy Adviser
- Tracey Burke, Director General, Education and Public Services
- Andrew Goodall, Director General, Health
- Andrew Slade, Director General ESNR
- Reg Kilpatrick, Director General, COVID-19 Crisis Coordination
- Frank Atherton, CMO
- Rob Orford, Chief Scientific Adviser for Health
- Chris Jones, Deputy CMO
- Helen Lentle, Director Legal Services
- Dylan Hughes, First Legislative Counsel
- Tom Smithson, Deputy Director Restart
- Michelle Morgan COVID-19 Recovery Team
- Liz Lalley, Deputy Director Recovery
- Terry Kowal, Senior Legislative Counsel
- Neil Buffin, Senior Lawyer
- Andrew Sallows, Delivery Programme Director Health
- Cathy Weatherup, CMO’s office
- Ffion Thomas, CMO’s office
- Duncan Hamer, Deputy Director Business (16th only)
- Peter Jones, CMO’s office (17th only)
- Jo Trott, Head of COVID-19 team
Item 1: 3 week review of COVID-19 Regulations CAB(20-21)78
1.1 The First Minister introduced the paper, which asked Cabinet to discuss and agree an approach to the review of the Coronavirus Restrictions (No.5) Regulations, which was due by 18th February.
1.2 Ministers were reminded that the restrictions relating to COVID-19 were for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence, spread of infection or contamination. There must be a threat to public health and the restrictions had to be proportionate in what they were intending to achieve. There was a requirement that the Welsh Government should review these restrictions every 3 weeks.
1.3 In the first instance, Cabinet would need to endorse the decisions that had been taken since the last review meeting in January. Ministers confirmed that the Regulations should be amended to provide for schools and college premises to open for the Foundation Phase and vocational learners.
1.4 Cabinet also agreed that it should be signalled that, if the conditions continued to improve over the following 3 weeks, the intention would be from 15th March to phase in the return of the remainder of primary school children along with those that would ordinarily be facing examinations this year. The latter would allow for face to face learning to help in the assessment of grades.
1.5 In advance of Cabinet considering the remaining issues within the paper, the First Minister invited the CMO to provide the latest advice in respect of the transmission of the virus and the impact on the NHS.
1.6 The situation was improving across Wales with the seven day average around 88 in every 100,000 of the population. The positivity rate was about 8.2% and the ‘R’ rate was now below 1. Pressure on the NHS was easing and only Powys was reporting an increase in cases. Over 780,000 people in Wales had now had their first dose of a vaccine.
1.7 There was a note of caution, however, as the new variants had created uncertainty about how swiftly cases may rise if restrictions were lifted too quickly, and as such, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling was recommending a slower relaxation of the lockdown measures. There was also a need to understand whether the vaccines would have an impact on transmission rates and how effective they would be in protecting the whole population. This would suggest that a degree of vulnerability to catching the virus would remain within the vaccinated population, and there was a risk of re-emergence in the autumn.
1.8 Cabinet returned to the paper and agreed, given current conditions, that the stay at home lockdown measures under Alert Level 4 should remain in place. However, should conditions continue to improve by the next review, it may be possible to begin moving out of the ‘stay at home’ restrictions.
1.9 Ministers recognised that people had found the winter lockdown more difficult and challenging. To help combat this, the paper proposed a small number of amendments that could improve people’s well-being without risking the government’s policy on the re-opening of schools or increasing the risk to health more generally.
1.10 It was agreed that the support bubble arrangements should be expanded to include additional groups.
1.11 Ministers also agreed that four people from two separate households could meet outdoors in a public place within social distancing guidelines. This would be an extension of the exercise rule and was consistent with the stay at home messaging. However, this would not apply to private gardens.
1.12 Garden centres and outdoor sports areas, such as golf courses, tennis courts and bowling greens should remain closed. In addition, restrictions on travelling for the purpose of exercise should remain in place.
1.13 Ministers agreed some further minor amendments to regulations and guidance, which would allow visitor attractions and hotels to open specifically for wedding and civil partnership ceremonies. In addition, guidance on visits to care homes would be amended to allow more visitors and there would be a change in the designation of Elite Athletes to include the Cymru Premier League and the Women’s Premier League.
1.14 Ministers also discussed whether the guidance should change to allow door to door distribution of election leaflets and concluded that while the stay at home messaging remained in place these restrictions should not be lifted.
1.15 It was agreed that officials would need to take into account comments made by minsters and instruct legal colleagues accordingly.
Item 2: 3 week review of COVID-19 Regulations: the Coronavirus Control Plan and potential unlocking sequence
2.1 Cabinet returned to the discussion about possible revisions to the Coronavirus Control Plan and the potential unlocking sequence. The First Minister advised Cabinet that rather than producing a revised plan at this stage, there would be an addendum to the original Alert Levels Framework, which would take into account the changes since the original plan had been published. A draft of the document had been shared with Ministers earlier that day.
2.2 This addendum highlighted the positive progress made with the roll-out of the vaccines and importance of the Test, Trace, Protect programme, but also balanced this against the virus mutations, particularly the so called ‘Kent’ variant, which had proven to be significantly more transmissible by between 30% and 50%.
2.3 The document also outlined the implications for schools, childcare and Higher Education, highlighting that while education was not formally part of the Alert Level Framework conclusions on re-opening were part of the decision making and three week review process. This reflected the Government’s policy that childcare and education settings should be the last to close and the first to open.
2.4 The addendum indicated a cautious approach to coming out of the lockdown, which reflected the advice of the World Health Organization, TAC and SAGE This would also ensure that the vaccine programme was able to continue at pace to help those most at risk. Therefore, there would be a gradual move from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3, based on the public health situation at the time of each review.
2.5 Publication of the document would coincide with announcement of the outcome of the 3 week review on Friday.
2.6 Cabinet welcomed the document and recognised the importance of setting out the Government’s approach to lifting the lockdown.
2.7 Cabinet agreed that, as part of the announcement about the outcome of the review on Friday, it would be important to provide hope to people by signalling when the stay at home message could be lifted and when some re-opening might take place. However, such messaging would need to be carefully caveated to avoid raising expectations too soon.
2.8 In terms of the sequencing of unlocking certain sectors, Cabinet had agreed the previous day that the intention was for the remainder of primary school and exam pupils would return on 15th March.
2.9 In addition, the reopening of non-essential and close contact services could be signalled as some of the issues that could be considered at the next review.