Mark Drakeford MS, First Minister
This week we saw the welcome start of the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Wales. More than 2,500 people have received their first dose of the vaccine in the opening days of the programme and many more will follow in the days and weeks ahead. We hope a second vaccine will soon be approved for use in the UK, increasing our options for protecting people against this awful virus.
The process of offering vaccinations to everyone in Wales will take time and it will be a while before we feel the benefits of this genuine breakthrough in the pandemic.
In the meantime, we must continue our efforts to control the spread of coronavirus in Wales. Unfortunately, we continue to see rapid growth in the number of coronavirus cases in all part of Wales, eroding the hard won gains from the firebreak period.
We have updated our covid control plan with a new set of four alert levels. The plan, which will be published next week, sets out in detail how these national measures will be introduced in a uniform and predictable way depending on the rates of the virus and the level of risk. It will help everyone to understand how and when the country will move through the different levels and enable people and businesses to plan with greater certainty as we move into a new year.
The approach updates Unlocking Our Society and Economy, which was originally published in May.
The updated plan has been informed by the latest evidence and analysis from our medical and scientific experts and from the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). We have also drawn on the experience from Scotland and England, which have introduced a tiered approach.
The plan sets out four alert levels – from low-risk alert level one to alert level four:
• Alert level one/low-risk – this represents the closest to normality we are likely to have before the summer and the widespread availability and take-up of vaccination.
• Alert level two/medium-risk – additional, targeted controls are in place to maintain infection rates at lower levels. These may be complemented by more targeted local restrictions to manage hotspots or specific incidents and outbreaks.
• Alert level three/high-risk – these are the strictest package of restrictions, short of a firebreak or lockdown.
• Alert level four/very high risk – restrictions at this level are equivalent to a lockdown and reflect the seriousness of the situation.
We are currently at alert level three. The situation in Wales is very serious; rates of coronavirus are very high and the NHS is under sustained pressure. Last week, we strengthened the national measures to respond to this situation – we must give these a chance to work.
We have agreed a set of common UK-wide arrangements to allow families to come together over the Christmas period. We must be prepared for an increase in coronavirus cases over this relaxation period as people move around the UK and come together to celebrate the festive season.
If rates keep on rising and the pressure on the NHS continues unchecked, we will have to consider a move to the next alert level – level four – immediately after the Christmas period.
This is not inevitable. We can all take steps to control the spread of coronavirus by reducing the number of people we are in contact with and mix with. This virus thrives on our normal human behaviour – whenever and wherever we come together and spend time with friends and other people, we can pass on or catch the virus.
Taking action now to reduce the number of people we see and mix with can help determine what happens after Christmas.
We will lay regulations next week, which provide for these new alert levels and we will seek a suspension of Standing Orders in the Senedd on Tuesday to hold a debate about the principles of the new alert levels. A vote on the regulations will follow at a later date.
I will circulate the updated covid control plan as soon as it is available.