First Minister Mark Drakeford faced difficult questions this morning about his sudden decision to ease Covid restrictions by the end of January in Wales.
Speaking to the media on Friday morning, he set out a timetable for what will happen between now and January 28, confirmed that Covid passes will still be needed and discussed the latest revelations about parties at Downing Street. You can see the timetable here.
Mr Drakeford denied that he had performed a U-turn after saying earlier this week saying Wales was in the eye of Omicron storm.
Follow live updates and reaction today as Mr Drakeford gives a press conference
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “Because the data and the science is saying to us – as the modelling we have in Wales predicted – we appear to have passed the peak of Omicron, and are coming down very rapidly on the other side, that gives us confidence that over the next two weeks we can gradually and carefully lift the level of protections we needed over the Christmas period, because from a public health perspective it will then be safe to do so.”
He denied the measures had come at a huge cost to Welsh commerce and hospitality, blaming the impact of the Omicron wave instead.
Mr Drakeford criticised England’s looser restrictions, saying they had led to “thousands upon thousands” of people unable to do their jobs because of sickness.
He said: “The government in England has been paralysed throughout this process and simply hasn’t been able to take decisions.
“In Wales we have a government that is prepared to do difficult things when they are necessary to protect public health.”
Here is everything he had to say:
Why are you lifting these restrictions?
The data and the science is saying to us that – as the modelling in Wales predicted- we appear to have passed the peak of Omicron and are coming down very rapidly on the other side, and that gives us confidence that over the next two weeks we can gradually and carefully lift the level of protections we needed over the Christmas and New Year period. From a public health perspective, it will then be safe to do so.
Was it necessary to have them so tough? You do seem to have changed your mind on this very quickly. It was only a week ago that you said we were in for a tough few weeks ahead
Mark Drakeford: “I said last Friday it would take another couple of weeks before we would come out of this wave, and it is in two weeks time that we will have lifted the restrictions.. What we are seeing is a very rapid decline in the number of cases in Wales. Last Friday it was 2,300 per 100,000 of the Welsh population. Today, only a week later, it is 1,200, a really rapid decline backed up my other measures that we are seeing in Wales and that is what gives us the space to be able to lift some of the protections that we have had.
“It is because of those restrictions that we are in the more benign position we are in today.”
It has come at a huge cost if you look at what has been happening for businesses in Wales?
“The impact on Welsh businesses doesn’t come from the actions of Government, but it comes because of the huge impact of the Omicron wave that we have seen.”
Is that purely the case? There are a range of options that governments can take in the face of Omicron, and the government in England took different decisions.
“Well, the government of England has been paralysed throughout this process, and simply hasn’t been able to take these decisions. In Wales, we have a government that is prepared to do the difficult things when they are necessary to protect public health, and indeed to protect public livelihoods.
“The Government in England say that they took the measures that they thought were commensurate with the risk as a way of keeping the economy as open as possible
“They won’t have succeeded, will they? They will have had thousands upon thousands of people falling ill because of coronavirus , unable to be in the workplace, unable to providing public services. The actions we have taken in Wales have protected those services, protected those businesses.
I don’t think the businesses will have seen it as protected because they have lost so much revenue, all those people not going to pubs, restaurants, nightclubs
“They are not going to those places because people because people are falling ill with coronavirus and that is making people, understandably, more nervous about being out in shops, in restaurants, and so on. In Wales, they will know that the measures we put in place have made those places more secure. We have put £120 million on the table to assist businesses because of the impact
This is looking like a U-turn under pressure
“It is the opposite. What we do in Wales, is we follow the science, we follow the data. We make difficult decisions where that is necessary and because of those difficult decisions, and most of all,. because of the fantastic way in which people in Wales have followed that advice, have stuck with the difficult things we are now able to set a path out of this and back to Level Zero.”
BBC Radio Wales
Tell us what is going to happen over the coming weeks
It is going to be a four stage process. From Saturday the number of people who can take part in an event outdoors will rise from 50 to 500. On Friday of next week, January 21, all outdoor activities will move to alert level zero. No limits on the number of people who can take part in outdoor activities, crowds will be able to return to sporting events.
Outdoor hospitality will be able to operate in the way they would have earlier in the pandemic.
Provided the numbers continue to reduce, then on January 28, we will move to alert level zero for all indoor places and premises and nightclubs will be able to open. Covid passes will still be needed for large events, nightclubs, cinemas and theatres. Hospitality able to operate indoors as they would have earlier on.
Because we are at alert level zero, we will then move to a three-week cycle of making decisions. We have been making decisions week by week when we have been in the thick of the Omicron wave. By February 10, we will back into the that three-week review pattern.
You were here last Friday, and I put it to you then about the people who were calling for relaxation. I think you described them as being “fundamentally wrong”, then on Tuesday you said we were in the teeth of the Omicron storm, then 48 hours after saying that, you chaired a cabinet meeting that voted to relax restrictions. I know the figures have improved, but have you recalibrated your balance between lives and livelihoods here? Are you taking a new approach? Is it a U-turn?
Mark Drakeford: “I don’t think it is a new approach at all. When we introduced the Level Two measures, our scientific advisers said to us we would need to have them in place for four weeks to have the effect needed. That four weeks is up on Friday of next week., and that is the date on which we will begin to revert fully to the level zero measures.
“I remember saying last Friday, that the modelling showed a very rapid rise in coronavirus, and a very rapid fall. That is what we have seen in the last week. A week ago, the number of people falling ill with coronavirus in Wales, the rate was 2,300 per 100,000 of the population, today that figure is 1,200, a drop of more than 1,000 in just a week.
“I think that is telling us that the model is correct. We are seeing the rapid fall off, and provided that is sustained, it means that over the next two weeks, in that step-by-step, careful way, we are able to return to more modest levels of protection that we had before the Omicron wave hit us.”
Would you say that those rules were an over reaction in the first place?
Mark Drakeford: “I think it is because we put those restrictions in place, and most of all, because of the fantastic way in which people in Wales, while we have been in the grip of the Omicron wave have acted responsibly, done all the things that have been asked of them.
“It is because of that, that we are now in this more benign position where we are able to lift some of those restrictions a bit earlier than we anticipated. It is because of all the hard work that people in Wales have put into keeping themselves and others safe.”
I know you will never say never. Are we moving from pandemic to endemic? Are we making that transition?
Mark Drakeford: “It would be absolutely wonderful if we didn’t have to go through all this another time. My own view is that we are still in the pandemic stage, because we can’t be completely confident that another variant, somewhere in the world, couldn’t be brewing today, just as Omicron was brewing in South Africa, six weeks ago. Then we saw it sweep through the United Kingdom, through Wales. I am afraid we can’t be as confident as we would all like to be that that couldn’t still happen to us.
“If it doesn’t happen, then I think we are into the ‘living with it’ phase, because coronavirus hasn’t gone away. The numbers in Wales today are still extraordinarily high., compared to other phases of the virus, but we have managed to live with it. We are making those adaptations, and hopefully, that is the path we are on. But I don’t think we can just guarantee it.”
Can we now finally say that the Principality Stadium will be full to capacity for the Six Nations Games?
Mark Drakeford: “Provided the numbers continue to fall, that is what we are announcing today. I have to put that ‘if’ in there as we follow the data and we follow the science. We are confident, from what we are told, that we are past the peak, and we are coming rapidly down the other side. We have seen many surprises with coronavirus. We need to see that pattern sustained for another week, and then next Friday, I hope to confirm, finally, that that is what can happen. We are briefing on it today because we think that is the path we are on..”
You say that Covid passes will remain. Will you be adding the booster as a requirement for a pass?
Mark Drakeford: “As soon as the technology allows us to do that, that is what we will do. There is some technical work going on at the moment. We share the same platform as England and there are some technical adjustments so that the booster is properly recorded, and visible to the person at the door who is checking the pass.
“We are told that that is imminent, that those changes can be made, and as soon as they are completed, then that is what we will move to.”
Several things are shared with England, but they have different rules in some things, including self-isolation being cut down from seven to five days. We have only just moved down to seven here, will you look at that again?
Mark Drakeford: “We will look at the evidence and the data. When we moved from 10 to seven days, the data we had then said to us that if you were released on day five, 30% of people would still be infectious and that wasn’t an advisable thing to do if three out of 10 people allowed to leave their homes were then passing the virus on to other people.
“If there is fresh data, and new things for us to consider then, of course. Our scientists are already looking at whatever it was that led the UK Government to make that announcement.”
We have further reports of more parties at 10 Downing Street, has Boris, as one Conservative MP said ‘lost the moral mandate to govern’?
Mark Drakeford: “Sir Keir Starmer has set out completely the position of my party, the Labour Party in relation to the Prime Minister. My interest comes in the way in which the interests of people in Wales, through the Welsh Government can be pursued in our discussions with the UK Government.
“I just have to say to you frankly. The UK Government is in a state of paralysis. It is impossible to conduct ordinary business with them. They are so eyes down in the crisis that the Prime Minister has created, that the ordinary business of doing the normal things that are necessary to sustain the interests of people in Wales simply can’t be conducted with them at the moment.”
They have set out a new way of speaking with the devolved governments. The Prime Minister will chair those meetings going forward, do you expect that to be Boris Johnson?
Mark Drakeford: “It is good news that we have finally been able to agree that inter-governmental review. Welsh officials took a leading part in formulating the new arrangements. Whether it will be Boris Johnson who chairs those meetings, I think it will be up to the Conservative Party.
“If you are asking me whether as an individual who has the necessary moral authority, or even the moral capacity to lead the nation, I am afraid the revelations cast that into really significant doubt.”
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