First Minister, Mark Drakeford MS
The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 5) (Wales) Regulations 2020 require a review of the coronavirus restrictions is undertaken every three weeks. The most recent review was due by 9 December
Overall, the coronavirus rate in Wales has remained relatively stable since the last review of the regulations – it continues to be high at around 500 cases per 100,000 people.
Since we last reviewed the regulations, the new omicron variant has emerged. This is a fast-moving variant of the virus, with many mutations – while there is still a lot we do not know about this variant, it is a worrying development in the pandemic.
In just over two weeks, cases of omicron have been identified all over the world, including in the UK. Many areas of England and Scotland are reporting widespread community transmission. At the moment, there are low numbers of confirmed cases in Wales but we must be prepared for cases to rise quickly and sharply.
This variant has the potential to infect large numbers of people, which could translate into an increase in hospital admissions. As we move into the most difficult period of the year for our health and social care services, even a small increase in Covi-19 admissions would put even more pressure on the NHS and social care services, which are already stretched.
We are taking this development very seriously and preparing for an omicron wave of infections now.
Our best defence is vaccination. We have expanded the vaccination programme, in line with the latest advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and we will be offering a booster vaccine to all eligible over-18s by the end of January.
In this three-week review of the regulations, we have considered what protections are needed now to respond to the current delta wave and to provide protection against the new omicron variant, building on the measures we have introduced over the last few weeks on self-isolation and international travel.
We will be strongly advising people to:
- Take a lateral flow test before going out, visiting friends or family or travelling. If the test is positive people should stay at home, self-isolate and arrange a PCR test.
- Wear face coverings in all public places, including in cinemas and theatres, pubs and restaurants, except when eating or drinking.
Our guidance for the COVID Pass has been amended to advise that a lateral flow test should be taken within 24 hours, rather than 48 hours as previously set out.
We have also published guidance for students preparing to leave college and university for Christmas, which recommends that they test before travel.
Our expert group on PPE is urgently reviewing all the available evidence around aerosol transmission for the omicron variant and we will act on any recommendations for change.
To protect some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, we are considering how to support safer visiting in care homes and hospitals in light of the emergence of the fast-moving omicron variant.
We are also making three changes to the regulations to:
- Clarify that people face coverings must be worn in theatres, cinemas or concert halls (except when eating or drinking or when at in-house cafes or bars)
- Require face coverings to be worn during a professional driving lesson or practical test;
- Remove proof of natural immunity from the domestic version of the Covid Pass.
The changes on face coverings will come into force on Saturday 11 December and their purpose is to remove any ambiguity from the regulations.
The changes for the Covid Pass will come into force on Wednesday 15 December, at the same time as in England. This will ensure the requirements are the same in both countries.
For the time being we will remain at alert level zero. We will monitor the public health situation very closely over the coming days and Ministers will meet regularly to consider whether we need to put additional protections in place to keep Wales safe. I will keep Members updated about any changes.