THE Welsh Government has today updated its Coronavirus Control Plan, setting out how and when more people and businesses will be able to resume their activities in the safest possible way.
In December, the First Minister published the Coronavirus Control Plan: Alert Levels for Wales, which set out how the national measures would be introduced in a more predictable way based on a framework of four alert levels.
The plan has been updated to take account of Wales’ fast-moving vaccination programme and the emergence of the highly-infectious Kent variant of the virus, which is now dominant throughout Wales. It also reflects the risk of new, potentially vaccine-resistant variants of coronavirus being imported into Wales from people holidaying and travelling overseas.
The new plan will support the Welsh Government to continue to relax restrictions while the public health situation continues to remain positive – rates have fallen significantly across Wales thanks to all the hard work and sacrifices made by people during the winter months. It sets out a range of indictors the Welsh Government will analyse and assess, alongside professional expert advice and intelligence from local partners, to determine how restrictions are relaxed.
But if there are strong signs of a growth in infections, it also sets out how the relaxations may need to be slowed, paused or in the worst case, reversed.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said:
“The coronavirus pandemic has turned all our lives upside down. Over the last 12 months, everyone in Wales has made sacrifices to help protect themselves and their families and help bring coronavirus under control.
“This is a cruel virus – far too many families have lost loved ones, and unfortunately, we know that many more people will fall seriously ill and sadly will die before the pandemic is over. But the way people and communities have pulled together across Wales, and followed the rules, has undoubtedly saved many more lives.
“We are now entering a critical phase in the pandemic. We can see light at the end of the tunnel as we approach the end of a long and hard second wave, thanks to the amazing efforts of scientists and researchers across the world to develop effective vaccines. Our amazing vaccination programme has made vaccines available to people in the most at-risk groups at incredible speed.”
More than 1.2m people in Wales have said yes to vaccination and have received their first dose; more than 300,000 people have completed the two-dose course. The aim is to offer the first nine priority groups of adults vaccination by mid-April and all eligible adults a first dose by the end of July.
Early results about the effectiveness of the vaccines are promising in terms of their effect in both preventing severe disease and transmission. But, until the vaccination programme is more advanced, a large proportion of the population will remain vulnerable to infection.
The uncertainty and unpredictability of the Kent variant means that Ministers are adopting a more cautious approach to coming out of lockdown.
The updated Coronavirus Control Plan sets out the following phased steps for moving from alert level four into alert level three:
From Monday 22 March:
First phased opening of non-essential retail – restrictions on the sale of items will be lifted for shops, which are currently open;
Garden centres re-open.
From Saturday 27 March:
Next week, Ministers will confirm if the conditions allow for the following relaxations to come into force:
Stay local requirement lifted, moving Wales into alert level three;
First phased opening of the tourism sector as self-contained accommodation opens;
Organised outdoor children’s activities resume;
Limited opening of outdoor areas of some historic places and gardens;
1 April review cycle
From 12 April (if conditions allow):
Full return to schools, colleges and other education;
All shops to open;
Close contact services to open.
22 April review cycle
The following areas will be considered as part of the 22 April review, if the public health situation continues to remain positive and vaccination rates continue to increase:
Gyms, leisure and fitness facilities;
Organised activities (30 outdoors, 15 indoors);
First Minister Mark Drakeford added:
“Just as we are rolling out vaccination, we are facing a very different virus in Wales today. The highly-infectious Kent variant is now dominant in all parts of Wales.
“This means the protective behaviours we have all learned to adopt are even more important than ever – getting tested and isolating when we have symptoms; keeping our distance from others; not mixing indoors; avoiding crowds; washing our hands regularly and wearing face coverings.
“The pandemic is not over – spring and summer give us hope of more freedom, as rates of infection fall and more people are vaccinated.
“But we must be need to careful – we can’t rush the process of relaxing restrictions and risk a resurgence of the virus.”
We will revisit this plan after vaccination has been offered to all eligible adults – currently scheduled for the end of July – when more evidence and data about its impact will be available.