Wales to stick to ‘cautious’ easing of Covid restrictions, health minister says
Wales will continue its “cautious” approach to easing coronavirus restrictions and will not publish a road map extending into the summer, the country’s health minister has said.
Vaughan Gething said the Welsh Government refused to act as though rules to supress the virus could be “magically taken away by a point in time”, and that moving too quickly could lead to a new wave of cases and deaths.
His comments came after First Minister Mark Drakeford described Boris Johnson’s timetable for easing restrictions in England as “optimistic” and warned life in Wales was unlikely to return to normal during 2021.
At Monday’s Welsh Government press briefing, Mr Gething said the Welsh public “welcome, and want us to continue to adopt, a cautious approach that is driven by the evidence”.
“There are noises from the fringes of politics that demands to have a more ambitious and more urgent programme – a road map that is driven by dates and not data – but that isn’t where the Welsh Government is at and where the people of Wales are,” Mr Gething said.
“That’s because the scientific evidence and advice that we have, both from our own technical advisory group and Sage, are all telling us that if we move too quickly we could throw away all the hard work and collective sacrifice (of) people in Wales and other parts of the UK to help significantly reduce coronavirus harm.
“I wouldn’t want to do that, and I don’t think anyone really expects the Welsh Government to suddenly throw open the doors and act as if we can have all the restrictions magically taken away by a point in time on a nominated date.”
Earlier on Monday, Mr Drakeford said he wanted to be “honest and realistic with people in Wales, rather than simply trying to paint the most optimistic picture that I can” when it came to returning freedoms.
He told BBC Wales: “I think some of the suggestions that the UK Government are making seem to be at the very optimistic end of the spectrum and not fully to take into account the advice we are having of the risks that will still be with us in the rest of this calendar year.”
But Mr Drakeford said he did hope life in the summer months “will be a lot closer to normal than it has been over the winter”.
More than 50 per cent of adults in Wales have now been given at least a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, and almost 350,000 of them have been given their second dose.
Mr Drakeford said the success of the vaccination programme and falling case rates meant the country was closer to “a point where coronavirus is a condition that we are managing and, crucially, we are managing it in a way that does not run the risk of it all catching fire again”.
Monday also saw the lifting of a ban on supermarkets in Wales selling non-essential items, while garden centres were also allowed to open for the first time this year.
Wales’s “stay local” travel requirement is expected to be lifted from March 27, with self-contained holiday accommodation also allowed to resume business in time for the Easter holidays, though people from other parts of the UK living under travel restrictions will still not be able to enter the country.
Libraries will also reopen and organised outdoor children’s activities can resume.
From April 12 there will be a full return to schools, colleges and other education settings, while all non-essential shops will reopen and close contact services will resume.
If infection rates remain stable or continue to fall, ministers will decide on April 22 whether to allow gyms and leisure centres, outdoor attractions, outdoor hospitality, weddings and organised indoor and outdoor activities to resume.