Wales’ economy minister has said Wales was right to impose restrictions to deal with Omicron.
Vaughan Gething defended the limits which have been in place and outlined what could stop all restrictions being lifted, as planned, by the end of January. You can read those plans here
Speaking on BBC Wales’ Politics Wales, he was asked by host James Williams: “Given that we’ve seen broadly the same patterns in all of the UK nations, are you still confident that the restrictions that you introduced made a significant difference?”
Mr Gething replied: “We haven’t seen broadly the same that is in all of the UK nations.
“If you look at what’s happened where there’s been a much lower level of protective measures in England, they have risen faster and there’s an appreciable gap between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Read more:Wales’ latest cases and deaths
“If you look at the figures on hospitalisations, and if you look at the gathering data, I’m afraid on mortality, in the last week or so about 1,800 people across the UK lost their lives that’s a significant loss of life. You’ll find England is disproportionately a larger part of it. This isn’t something that is like the common cold. Omicron is more transmissible. It’s milder, but it’s not mild and that’s been the challenge that we faced.
“We can be confident that more people would have come to harm without the protections we had in place.
“At every stage during the pandemic had to balance the direct harm from Covid in physical and mental health terms, the indirect harms that come from the measures you might take to protect people against those harms and these are not straightforward or easy choices. There’s certainly no cavalier attitude from Welsh Government ministers about imposing restrictions to protect public health and understanding very well in doing that, that there is a consequence.
“Equally as we take steps out to have that path to level zero within two weeks we know that some of those protections, the balance changes, and that’s exactly what we did this week in weighing up all those different factors. I’m generally positive and optimistic that the steps together we’ve taken over the last month or so have been worth it.”
He was asked if the 50 person limit on outdoor events followed scientific advice and reference was made to a SAGE paper last year which said large groups have a relatively smaller impact on transmission than groups of between 10 and 50 people.
“We had discussion about the limit on outdoor activities and the guidance from our chief medical officer and our scientific adviser was that it was proportionate. We’ve tested that in the various points in the last month and it was again a subject that we deliberately tested again.
“We looked at the balance of all the measures we had in place, whether it’s the right thing to do and even after that we still say and are we still confident it’s the right thing to do.
“These are not straightforward choices. I really wish they were, but I’m afraid even in the coming weeks, there may be difficult choices for us to make but we’ve tried to be consistent and always to front up to the choices we’re making and why.”
By the end of January the hope is all restrictions can be lifted. Mr Gething was asked what could stop that happening.
“We want to look at headline case rates with the caveat that we know that there’ll be suppressed compared to a few weeks ago. We also want to look at the level of harm coming into our health care system but understanding that there are difficult days ahead because there’s harm that’s already baked in but we’re thinking about the release of the measures whether actually it will prevent more harm coming into the system by keeping those measures in place.
“The view has been that actually we can safely release measures in the way that we’ve done. We need to continue to look at if there’s another strain, another variant or a blip upwards in case rates.”
He was also asked what changed, after the First Minister said on Tuesday consideration would only be given to lifting restrictions in around 10 days time only for the announcement two days later to say that all restrictions were being lifted.
“We were still expecting on the modelled events on Tuesday that cases would continue to rise but actually the levelling off we’ve seen continued and actually the pace of cases falling was much more rapid even after the Tuesday.
“I actually asked about the figures because I knew we changed policy on testing with lateral flows not needing to be confirmed by a PCR test but actually the falls were much more significant you’d expect from that policy change.”
Mr Gething was asked if it was right workers could be fined for not working from home.
“We had a rounded discussion earlier in the pandemic with a number of trade union voices about the duty to work from home and what that meant, and actually a number of our trade union colleagues said at the time that having a duty for workers would help to protect them from those businesses who would say, ‘I’ve looked at the need to work from home’ and actually at that time, there were people who were generally concerned that the roguer ends of employers could try to force people and having a duty to work from home for individual workers will protect them against rogue employers.
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