First Minister Mark Drakeford has hinted at the possibility of a “very modest” further easing of lockdown restrictions next week.
Mark Drakeford, speaking at the Welsh Government’s press conference on Friday afternoon, said his aim was to restore freedoms in a careful and cautious way that will not put the safety of the public at risk. He said there remained cause for concern over the Kent variant of Covid-19 and its potential to be more transmissible than the original version of the virus.
As things currently stand, children in foundation phase of primary school will return to face-to-face learning from February 22 following a fall in the number of infections across the country. This so far as been the only major easing of lockdown restrictions this year, though some local authorities have already said they will be delaying this by a few days. Wales’ lockdown is next set to be reviewed by the Welsh Government on Friday, February 19.
When asked about how he balanced the desires of people to have many of their freedoms back with fears from his scientific advisers about the potential for “exponential growth” in infection rates should lockdown be lifted too quickly, Mr Drakeford said: “What we will rely on will be the positive way in which people in Wales last year supported the careful, step-by-step approach we took to lifting restrictions.
“The anxiety our scientists point to is the fact we now have the Kent variant as the dominant variant in Wales and its transmissibility is much quicker than the original version.
“So as we start to carefully and cautiously lift restrictions, we don’t know how this new variant will react, whether even a small uptake in the number of infections might accelerate away from us even more quickly than would have been the case last year. That’s why they [the Technical Advisory Cell to the Welsh Government] urge caution on us.
“I hope when I’m standing here next week I’ll be confirming that the foundation phase will be going back to school and if there’s anything else it will be very modest indeed. We will monitor [infection rates] as carefully as we possibly can to see whether the conditions of the new variant give us cause for concern, and that’s the balancing act.”
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Mr Drakeford did not make any suggestion as to what any modest change to the restrictions might be, if anything at all. He also said: “And I think people in Wales will understand that. Nobody will want us to throw away all the efforts people have made since before Christmas, and we will not do that. We will look to restore freedoms in a way that continues to secure our safety against coronavirus and its latest developments while always wanting to restore the freedoms we have all been missing.”
Let us know how you fee about when lockdown should be lifted:
Mr Drakeford also revealed that “cautious” talks had begun about the tourism sector being able to reopen in time for Easter — you can read more on that here. But he warned it was all dependant on Covid-19 infection rates remaining low and keeping on top of variants of the virus.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We are talking with them about what might be possible around the Easter period but it is all very much caveated… that the current progress that is being made can continue and in a careful and cautious way we look to reopen things.
“But those are amongst the dates that we are using in our conversations with businesses and workers here in Wales. It’s always a very important moment for our tourism and hospitality industry.”
He also set out what he considered a return to “normal life” would look like in the coming months, which you can read here. On Friday the First Minister confirmed that vaccination has been offered to everyone in the first four priority groups.
- Everyone over 70
- All frontline health and social care workers
- Everyone living and working in older people’s care homes
- And everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.
“This has been a phenomenal effort and it is thanks to the hard work of the thousands of NHS staff, volunteers and military personnel across Wales who have been vaccinating people every day of the week in the mass vaccination centres, GP practices and hospital sites,” he said.
“We want to make sure that no one from these first four groups is left behind. If you’ve changed your mind about having the vaccine or missed your appointment because of illness, you haven’t missed out on your chance of having the vaccine.
“The NHS is checking and rechecking its lists to make sure it hasn’t missed anyone and will be continuing to invite people to come forward through the weekend.
“Every health board has dedicated phone lines and email addresses for people in these first four groups to get in touch to arrange an appointment.”
Over the next few months, Wales will be offering vaccination to everyone in groups five to nine which includes:
- Everyone aged 50 to 69
- Everyone over 16 who has an underlying health condition, which puts them at increased risk.
- And a great many unpaid carers who provide care for someone who is vulnerable to the virus.
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk