Covid passes for hospitality in Wales during run up to Christmas remains on the table
The introduction of covid passes for pubs and restaurants in Wales during the run up to Christmas remains on the table, the economy minister has said.
Currently the passes, which require proof of vaccination or a recent negative lateral flow test, are in place for all over 18s visiting large events, nightclubs, cinemas and theatres.
It has been thought that the passes could be expanded to cover pubs and restaurants as part of the most recent three week review, with opposition parties and industry representatives raising concern over the impact they could have.
Restrictions will be reviewed again in 21 days time, with First Minister Mark Drakeford hinting last week the passes are still being considered as a way of keeping hospitality businesses open over the festive period.
Speaking at the weekly Welsh Government press briefing this afternoon Economy Minister Vaughan Gething confirmed that discussion over the expansion of the passes remains underway with the hospitality industry.
He said that covid case rates remain high and have increased in half of the local authorities across Wales.
Mr Gething said: “There is real concern that if we tolerate that level of covid in the population without taking further steps we could end up seeing more pressure go into our health and care system.
“That could cause challenges not just for health and care, but for businesses as well, because businesses already know that they’re facing challenges in a tight labour market where they need more people and with people needing to isolate because they have covid.
“We are having those conversations on whether we will need to roll out the covid passes to give us an extra line of protection against more significant action that really would have a great impact on jobs and businesses.”
The last two weeks have seen tight restrictions and talk of further measures being introduced across parts of Europe, which are currently seeing a surge in the number of people catching the virus.
In 2020 Wales was plunged into a strict lockdown just days before Christmas, with measures in place until spring of this year.
Asked at today’s briefing whether Wales can expect a more normal festive period this year, Mr Gething said it will “undoubtedly be substantially better than last year”.
He said: “I really don’t think we’re going to have to make the same sort decisions we did last year, unless there really is a vaccine busting variant that would cause real concern for us here.
“The challenge, though, is when you look around the rest of northern and eastern Europe you’re seeing a further surge in COVID cases and we already have very high case rates here.
“Vaccination provides us tremendous support and the ability to carry on having a range of services and businesses open. That’s why we haven’t seen the sort of the extraordinary challenges that our health care system faced at this time last year, moving through the Christmas period,
“It’s is meant that fewer people need to go to hospital, fewer people are losing their lives and the difference is extraordinary.
“That’s why we placed so much emphasis on encouraging people to get their booster, I am going to get mine and I’d encourage everyone to take that up and to make it as easy as possible for people who work for you or work alongside you to get their booster as well.
“The modelling suggests that we may not need to have further restrictions in place like going back up the alert levels.
“The challenge is with the rate of cases we have which we know that continue to place real pressure on the NHS which is busy with other work in a way it hasn’t been for much of the pandemic. We also know that we are going to get a flu season this year, we’re not quite sure how significant that will be but we had very low rates of flu circulating last year.
“That’s why we’re actively discussing whether we do need to further roll out the covid pass in hospitality.
“We’ve had active conversations across hospitality and they understand that it’s one extra measure that could help us to maintain the level of openness we have now and businesses’ ability to trade effectively.
“They all understand and they don’t want anything like moving up to alert level one because that really will cost businesses and jobs.
“We need to understand and balance off the higher rates of covid we face, whether we could and should act that now or whether we should wait and see and that may mean we may need to take further action in a less managed way than we might otherwise.
“Those are discussions we’ll need to conclude in the near future to give certainty to businesses and the public.”
Reacting to Mr Gething’s comments, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport, Tom Giffard MS, said: “Extending these redundant passes to pubs, restaurants and cafes will do nothing to stop the spread of coronavirus and everything to damage businesses.
“Our hospitality industry has taken one hell of a beating over the last 19 months and we should be pulling out all the stops to help businesses instead of inflicting more misery on them and pushing them further towards financial ruin.
“Not only is there no evidence that these anti-business passes stop the spread of the virus and increase vaccine uptake, but they also throw up a string of ethical and equality issues.
“Labour ministers need to confirm now that COVID passes will not be extended so business owners can start planning for a normal Christmas of trading and help them recoup some of the money lost over throughout the pandemic.”
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