Present (via Teams)
- Rt. Hon. Mark Drakeford MS (Chair)
- Rebecca Evans MS
- Vaughan Gething MS
- Lesley Griffiths MS
- Julie James MS
- Eluned Morgan MS
- Ken Skates MS
- Kirsty Williams MS
- Jeremy Miles MS
- Hannah Blythyn MS
- Jane Hutt 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 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
- Ian Butler, Special Adviser
- Kate Edmunds, Special Adviser
- Sarah 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 (minutes)
- Damian Roche, Cabinet Secretariat
- Jonathan Scourfield, Specialist Policy Adviser
- Dewi Knight, Specialist Adviser for Education Reform
- 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
- Chris Jones, Deputy CMO (Thursday only)
- Rob Orford, Chief Scientific Adviser for Health
- Fliss Bennee, Co-Chair of TAC (Wednesday only)
- Simon Brindle, Director Recovery and Restart (Thursday only)
- Dylan Hughes, First Legislative Counsel
- Helen Lentle, Director Legal Services
- Emma Watkins, Deputy Director Economic Policy (Wednesday only)
- Tom Smithson, Deputy Director Restart
- Liz Lalley, Deputy Director Recovery (Wednesday only)
- Diane Dunning (Thursday only)
- Neil Buffin, Senior Lawyer
- Peter Jones, CMO’s office (Wednesday only)
- Cathy Weatherup, CMO’s office (Wednesday only)
- Ffion Thomas, CMO’s office
- Jo Trott, Head of COVID-19 team (Wednesday only)
- Kelly Murphy, Head of School Improvement and COVID-19 Response (Thursday only)
Item 1: Minutes of the previous meeting
1.1 Cymeradwyodd y Cabinet gofnodion y 29 Rhagfyr / Cabinet approved the minutes of 29 December.
Item 2: 3 week review of The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 (Wednesday 6 January)
2.1 The First Minister reminded Cabinet that the restrictions relating to COVID-19 would be 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.
2.2 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.
2.3 Cases of COVID-19 were very high in most parts of Wales and the seven day average was around 470 in every 100,000 of the population. There were rapid increases in North East Wales, largely due to the new variant of the virus. Symptoms did not appear to be more serious, but the increased risk came from the fact this strain was more infectious.
2.4 The data for infection rates and the new-year period was unclear due to reporting issues and the reduction in testing over the public holidays, but it was hoped that information on the impact of the Alert Level 4 restrictions in Wales would be available by the end of the following week.
2.5 Even with restrictions the new strain appeared to be driving an increase in cases across the whole of the UK. This had led to the 4 CMOs on Monday, following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre, to raise the risk level to the highest possible. In response, there were now strengthened lockdown measures across mainland Scotland and the whole of England was in full lockdown.
2.6 The NHS in Wales was in a very challenging position, as the number of people being admitted to hospital had continued to rise for the past 2 weeks, with almost 2,800 patients with COVID-19 symptoms occupying beds.
2.7 The paper confirmed the situation with the virus and recommended that the Alert Level 4 Restrictions should be maintained across the whole of Wales for another 3 weeks. There was also the potential to introduce further constraints.
2.8 Cabinet agreed with this proposal and that there should be further tightening of restrictions. In particular, the Regulations should be changed to make it explicit that showrooms were classed as non-essential retail and should close.
2.9 Ministers noted there had been concerns from the public, enforcement bodies, such as local authorities, and Trades Unions about levels of compliance in some essential retail, particularly supermarkets.
2.10 It was noted that discussions with the Retail Forum would take place the following day, to remind them of the legal requirements for reasonable measures to be taken, including maintaining 2m distancing and carrying out new risk assessments in response to the increased public health restrictions.
2.11 It was agreed that the government should signal on Friday that it was considering strengthening the requirements on supermarkets.
2.12 Ministers further agreed that these additional restrictions should be applied to the whole of Wales and not on a regional basis.
2.13 Cabinet agreed that the request from supermarkets to allow them to deliver alcohol beyond 10pm should be refused, as this would create inequity for other businesses that were required to close by 10pm.
2.14 There were no current plans to introduce further restrictions for childcare or places of worship but further advice was being prepared for Cabinet consideration on Monday. Ministers agreed that any changes to childcare arrangements would have a disproportionate impact on the poorest of families, specifically women, and could also have implications for certain sectors, such as essential retail, health and social care.
2.15 It was agreed that the advice would need to include equality and children’s rights impact assessments, and consider how to make provision for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
2.16 Cabinet also agreed that officials should explore with enforcement bodies, whether it was possible to introduce high profile measures, such as police road blocks for checking travel excuse reasons.
2.17 There was anecdotal evidence that some open businesses were failing to properly regulate their environment. In response, it was proposed that officials should review the regulations and statutory guidance on reasonable measures to ensure that requirements on open businesses were strengthened to reflect the heightened levels of risk and the impact of the new variant.
2.18 There was a brief discussion on whether the review of the recent decision on school closures should be aligned with the 3 weekly reviews of the Regulations and it was agreed that Cabinet would need to reconvene the following morning to consider this in more detail. In the meantime, officials should provide a note on a specific proposal and recommended course of action and the Chief Scientific Adviser’s office should provide a report on the new variant and its impact on transmission in schools.
2.19 Cabinet agreed that officials would need to take into account the decisions made by ministers on the proposals within the paper.
Item 3: The alignment of decision on school closures with the review of the Regulations (Thursday 7 January)
3.1 The First Minister informed ministers that Cabinet had reconvened to discuss the alignment of the school and college closures with the review of the Regulations. Overnight, a paper had been produced on the proposal and a TAG Brief on the variant of concern and Education in Wales had been circulated to ministers.
3.2 The First Minister invited the Chief Scientific Adviser to provide an overview of the TAG report.
3.3 The new variant of the virus appeared to have a firm foothold in North West Wales and it would only be a matter of time before this was repeated throughout Wales, similar to the first wave of the original strain.
3.4 There was a body of evidence that demonstrated higher transmission amongst children when the virus was circulating more within communities. Schools remained safe, but the fact that the variant was more easily spread made contacts in unregulated settings outside the school environment the main risk. This applied equally to teachers and students. Schools being fully open involved a wider range of practical challenges to behaviour, which were outside the direct control of the teaching environment, and contributed to wider social mixing. There would be a need for further data to analyse the implications of the spread of the virus as a result of schools not being fully open.
3.5 The Minister for Education informed Cabinet that it was clear that it would not be possible to fully re-open schools on 18th January.
3.6 Stakeholders were asking for urgent clarity on the next steps to enable them to plan properly for longer term remote learning. It was therefore sensible to align decisions on schools with the government’s review of the Regulations.
3.7 The next overall review was scheduled for Friday January 29th. However, it would not be possible to wait until that date to confirm whether schools would open or close the following Monday as schools would be unable to prepare. Therefore, it was proposed, for the sake of clarity, that the Government should signal that it was unlikely that normal face to face schooling would return before half term in mid-February unless these was a significant improvement in the ‘R’ rate.
3.8 During this period, the government would consider whether it was possible to bring pupils back in on a phased basis, such as those in exam years and the foundation phase. However, all schools would remain open for children of critical workers, vulnerable children and anyone who needed to complete essential exams or assessments.
3.9 Cabinet agreed with the recommendations and highlighted the importance of children having access to the necessary IT equipment for online learning.