There is a cautious glimmer of hope that restrictions in Wales could be eased as case number start to fall.
At the latest Welsh Government coronavirus briefing on Friday (January 15), First Minister Mark Drakeford said they are “seeing some more regular and encouraging signs that cases are stabilising in Wales”.
For the first time in weeks, the all-Wales incidence rate has dropped below 400 cases per 100,000 people – t he current rate is around 365 cases per 100,000 people.
The next review is due to be held on January 29, and Mr Drakeford said if the cases continue to head in the right direction over the next two weeks then the Cabinet will decide if there is any “headroom for us to begin the process of lessening the current level of restrictions we all face.”
He added: “This is a welcome change from the very worrying position we were facing just before Christmas.
“The percentage of tests, which are positive, is also coming down steadily – around one in five is positive.
“These signs of improvement show that all your hard work and sacrifice over the last six weeks is working.
“I want to thank everyone for all that they have been doing; for sticking to the rules and for staying at home. But we all need to continue this effort.
“We would have to be certain that the improvement is reliable, sustainable in order for us to begin the journey of lifting the restrictions. We want to do that as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Mr Drakeford told journalists: “We are not a long way off on some of the measures. This time last week the rate per 100,000 was well above 400, now it is down to 365.
“We are talking about two weeks away before we review the regulations. We are definitely seeing progress being made, but some of those figures will not move as quickly, we will not see reduction in hospital occupation.
“Even within levels it is possible to make some adjustments. Even if we can’t go between level 4 to level 3, we may, and I want to stress the may, be possible to have some marginal easements that would demonstrate to people that the efforts they are making are making a difference.”
According to the Welsh Government Coronavirus Control Plan, which details the tiered system with four alert levels and how it expects Wales to move through the system, Wales is currently at alert level four, the most serious.
To move down to alert level three, the incidence rate in Wales would need to be below 300 cases per 100,000.
The plan has been designed as a way to get the country through the anticipated difficult winter period ahead and allow time to formulate a plan for the latter half of 2021. What needs to happen for restrictions to be eased
Alert level three (high risk)
- Confirmed case rate more than 150 cases per 100,000 people rolling seven-day average
- Test positivity over 5% over seven days
- Forecast of Welsh population estimated to have Covid-19 is between 0.75% and 1%
- Hospital capacity concerns and likely pressure from increased cases is four to five weeks away
Alert level four (very high risk)
- Confirmed case rate more than 300 cases per 100,000 people rolling seven-day average
- Confirmed case rates for over 60s suggesting rapid growth
- Projection of future case incidence rates over next two weeks anticipating significant rises to more than 500 cases per 100,000 people
- Test positivity above 10% over seven days
- A reliable estimate of the R rate at one or above
- Health and social care under significant pressure and not sustainable, elective procedures are being cancelled across the board and capacity limits reached or about to be breached
There are other factors such vaccinations, school transmissions and geographic mapping to consider.
Mr Drakeford said that vaccinations would play a part in the easing of restrictions.
He told the briefing: “They will be part of the calculations of what activities can be returned to people. There is some challenging conversations over the months ahead about what having a vaccine means and what freedoms it affords to you.
“I sometimes fear that the understandable enthusiasm we feel about the vaccinations may lead some people to think that as long as you have a vaccination, you won’t have to take any precautions in the future.
“That won’t be the case. People who are vaccinated will still have to play their part in sustaining the other measure we are asked to take while this virus is still at large in our communities. Simply having the vaccine by itself will not be sufficient to return life to what it once was.
“We are going to be living with restrictions well into this calendar year, alongside the vaccine.”
The signs are good, but First Minister Mark Drakeford remains cautious, reiterating that the NHS remains under “intense and sustained pressure”.
“This week we passed some very sobering milestones,” he said. ” The number of coronavirus-related patients in our hospitals exceeded double the peak we saw in the first wave.
“The number of people in critical care beds with coronavirus is almost same as the number of intensive care beds we would normally have available for the whole of Wales – we have continually had to increase capacity to respond to demand.
“Every time we do this, it has a knock-on impact on the NHS’ ability to provide non-emergency services.
“And – very sadly – this week, we passed 5,000 deaths reported by the Office for National Statistics.
“I want to pause for a moment to say that we aren’t just talking about numbers. These are people, who all had families who cared for them deeply. Our thoughts are with everyone who has lost someone to this cruel virus.”
He also used the example of what has happened in the Republic of Ireland as a warning.
“The Republic of Ireland had some of the lowest rates in Europe when it came out of its lockdown before Christmas,” he said. ” Just three weeks later, the course of the pandemic had moved dramatically and it had the highest rates in the world.
“This is why it’s so important that we all carry on following the lockdown rules.”
If Wales is moved to alert level 3 this is what can people must do:
- Follow social distancing rules with people you don’t live with or who are not in your exclusive extended household.
- Wear a face covering (if you are able to) in all indoor public places.
- Only form an extended household with no more than 1 other household and they should stay the same.
- Not meet with anyone in a private home other than those you live with or your extended household.
- Meet no more than 3 other people indoors in a cafe, restaurant or other open premises.
- Meet only your extended household in private gardens.
- Meet no more than 3 other people outdoors (unless with extended household of a larger number).
- Work from home if you can.
- Not travel to areas of high prevalence without reasonable excuse.
- Avoid travel to areas of low prevalence and international travel.
What can open at alert level 3
- Schools, colleges and childcare providers.
- Higher Education Institutions (mix of in-person and remote learning).
- Licenced premises – sales only (alcohol cannot be drunk on the premises, only taken away). Hospitality businesses close at 6pm, off licenses to stop selling alcohol at 10pm.
- Non-essential retail.
- Close contact services.
- Hospitality (no alcohol for consumption on premises. Open between 6am and 6pm, and for takeaway after 6pm).
- Holiday accommodation.
- Leisure and fitness facilities.
- Places of worship.
- Community centres.
- Libraries and archive services.
- Sport courts, golf courses.
- Playgrounds and public parks.
- Organised indoor activities (up to 15 people).
- Organised outdoor activities (up to 30 people).
- International Travel.
- Weddings in venues that are allowed to be open, and funerals (ceremony limit set by venue).
- Wedding reception or wakes, in venues that are allowed to be open, (15 people indoors, 30 outdoors).
What must be closed at alert level 3
- Venues for events and conferences.
- Theatres and concert halls.
- Indoor and outdoor visitor attractions.
- Entertainment venues.
- Nightclubs and adult entertainment venues.
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk