Mark Drakeford today announced a wave of new coronavirus restrictions for Wales which will kick in from Boxing Day as he banned large New Year’s Eve parties and imposed the rule of six on pubs and restaurants.
The Welsh First Minister announced the return of two metre social distancing in most public settings while hospitality venues will be limited to table service-only and customers will have to wear face masks at all times apart from when seated.
Curbs will be placed on large gatherings, with a maximum of 30 people allowed to attend an indoor event and 50 outdoors.
The Welsh Government is not imposing rules on mixing in private homes, but has issued tougher guidance which ‘strongly’ advises people to limit household mixing.
Mr Drakeford said the measures are necessary because ‘we are facing a very serious situation in Wales’ as he piled the pressure on Boris Johnson, with the Prime Minister currently weighing up whether to impose new curbs on England after Christmas.
The latest crackdown came after the number of identified Omicron cases in Wales grew by 204 yesterday to 640, with a total of 2,375 new coronavirus cases overall.
Mr Drakeford’s measures go even further than those announced by Nicola Sturgeon yesterday after she banned large scale Hogmanay celebrations and imposed table service-only rules on hospitality.
Mr Johnson yesterday hit the brakes on a Christmas lockdown in England as scientists concluded the Omicron strain is likely to be milder than Delta, with ministers saying cases are also lower than feared.
The PM declared last night that Christmas can definitely go ahead ‘cautiously’, but warned that the Government is tracking the spread of the mutant strain hour by hour and is ‘ready’ to act after December 25 if necessary.
However, in a glimmer of light there are claims today that the UK Health Security Agency has tentatively backed suggestions that Omicron infections tend to be less severe.
The scientists also endorsed previous findings that booster jabs offer significant protection from developing symptoms and ending up in hospital, according to Politico.
Another South African study has suggested the risk of hospitalisation is 80 per cent lower with the variant.
The evidence – due to be published formally in the coming days – does not mean that the threat from the variant can be ignored, as it is so transmissible that large numbers are set to end up needing urgent care.
Government sources are adamant that it did not play a part in the decision on Christmas last night.
However, the apparent findings will be a significant boost to the PM as he weighs up whether to bring in even tougher restrictions as early as next week.
Mark Drakeford today set out post-Christmas coronavirus rules for Wales, with tighter restrictions for hospitality
The First Minister is also advising people in Wales to limit household mixing. Cardiff city centre is pictured last night
Mr Drakeford said the new crackdown in Wales is needed because there is a ‘wave of infections… headed our way’.
He said: ‘We are facing a very serious situation in Wales. A wave of infections caused by the new, fast-moving and very-infectious omicron variant is headed our way.
‘This new form of coronavirus could infect large numbers of people in Wales, disrupting daily lives and businesses and could cause an increase in the number of people who need hospital care in the coming weeks.
‘We will do everything we can to protect people’s health and livelihoods in Wales – this means taking early action to try and control its spread.
‘We are changing the rules for businesses and some public spaces, where lots of different people mix daily and issuing strong and clear advice to help people stay safe in their own private homes and when meeting others.’
Mr Drakeford said the new restrictions amount to a revised version of the old Alert Level Two curbs which were previously in place in the country.
The new curbs will see a general requirement for two metre social distancing in all premises open to the public, including workplaces.
The rule of six will apply to gatherings in hospitality venues, including in cinemas and theatres.
All venues serving alcohol will be required to use table service-only and to collect the contact details of customers.
Face coverings will also be required in all hospitality settings at all times apart from when people are sat down.
Mr Drakeford torpedoed large-scale New Year’s Eve celebrations as he said large events will be banned, both indoors and outdoors.
The maximum number of people people who will be allowed to gather at an indoor event will be 30 while for outdoor events it will be 50.
There will also be a separate offence for large gatherings in private homes and gardens, with the same numbers applying.
The latest measures are in addition to those which were set out last week which applied to workplaces and retail which will now also come into force on Boxing Day. Night clubs will also close on Boxing Day.
However, the Welsh Government is not imposing hard and fast rules on mixing in private homes, instead opting to roll out new guidance consisting of five recommendations.
The guidance suggests that people should limit the number of people visiting their home, take lateral flow tests before a visit, meet outdoors if possible, space out any visits and to remember to social distance and wash hands.
The Welsh government has already amended legislation to enforce work from home rules.
It has made attending a workplace unnecessarily a criminal offence, with people facing fines for breaking the law.
The amended legislation states that ‘no person may leave the place where they are living, or remain away from that place, for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services’ when it is ‘reasonably practicable’ to do so from home.
It adds that anyone who contravenes this rule ‘commits an offence’ punishable by a fine of £60.
However, people in Wales are still allowed to leave home to visit pubs and restaurants, and there is currently no limit on household mixing.
The latest restrictions in Wales also include the closure of nightclubs from December 27, and compulsory distancing through measures such as one-way systems in businesses to protect customers and staff.
From December 26, sporting events whether indoors or outdoors will be played behind closed doors.
Mr Drakeford’s press conference comes after Nicola Sturgeon yesterday announced new curbs for Scotland.
From December 26 for three weeks there will be attendance limits placed on live public events which will torpedo Hogmanay festivities.
The limits will not apply to private life events like weddings, but Ms Sturgeon said for indoor standing events the limit will be 100 people, for indoor seated events it will be 200 and for outdoor events 500 seated or standing.
There have been 562,333 cumulative cases of coronavirus in Wales since the pandemic started, according to Public Health Wales data
Public Health Wales data showed there has been 6,522 suspected Covid-19 deaths in Wales since the start of the pandemic
This will mean that from Boxing Day football and other sporting matches in Scotland will effectively be spectator-free.
Ms Sturgeon also said that from December 27 the Scottish Government is advising people to return to limiting their social contacts ‘as much as you possibly can’ while a table service-only requirement will be reimposed on hospitality venues serving alcohol, lasting for an initial period of three weeks.
There will also be a requirement for one metre social distancing between adults in all indoor hospitality and leisure settings.
In England, Boris Johnson yesterday said there will be no new restrictions imposed before Christmas but he warned measures could be imposed after December 25.
Source: Daily Mail