Health minister says public response so far to covid passes has been “quite positive” as their use in pubs before Christmas not ruled out
The First Minister has suggested COVID passes could be introduced for pubs and restaurants in Wales over Christmas.
No decision has been taken yet but Mark Drakeford has hinted it’s being considered as a way of keeping hospitality businesses open over the festive period.
Restrictions will be reviewed in three weeks time ahead of what will be a busy time for the hospitality industry with the run-up to the Christmas period.
First Minister Mark Drakeford has said: “Three weeks ago we were facing a very serious situation in Wales, but everyone has pulled together and cases have fallen back from those record-high levels.
“I want to thank everyone for their hard work and the steps they have taken to protect themselves and their loved ones.
“As we start to plan for Christmas we need to keep on working together to bring coronavirus under control.
“The pandemic hasn’t gone away – a fourth wave is sweeping across Europe, with many countries introducing stricter restrictions once again.
“We will do everything we can to keep Wales open and to keep Wales safe.
“This means keeping the option of extending the use of the Covid Pass if cases rise again and pandemic pressures on the NHS increase, to help keep the hospitality sector open and trading through the busy festive period.”
“We will continue to monitor the public health situation and we will work with the hospitality sector as we prepare for Christmas.”
“Let’s keep working together to keep each other safe – so we can all enjoy Christmas together.”
Asked if we will have a normal Christmas this year, health minister Eluned Morgan said it was “too early to tell.”
Speaking to BBC Wales Breakfast, Ms Morgan said: “The good news is that for this (three-week review) period we will not be introducing the COVID passes because the people of Wales have responded positively.”
“They’ve really been respectful of the protection measures we’ve put in place and we’ve seen our rates come down from over 700 to under 500 (per 100,000 over a 7 day period, a key Covid infection benchmark).
The health minister said that rates are “creeping up again, so we are going to have to keep an eye on the situation.”
“The last thing any of us want is to see the kind of Christmas that we saw last year.”
She said: ‘“I think it’s probably worth pointing out though but 86% of the public in Wales over 16 have had double vaccination so that would be eligible for a pass.”
“The public, in general, is with us and certainly the response to the introduction of Covid passes generally, for major events, cinemas and theatres has been quite positive and has given people the confidence to go to these venues.”
Asked: “What needs to happen with the case rates to make sure people can have a Christmas party.”
Ms Morgan said: “As always, our measuring stick is about the impact on the NHS and what we know is almost 10% now about beds in hospital are taken up by people who are suffering from the virus.”
“We have got to keep an eye on that, the NHS is under significant pressure from other issues as well.”
“NHS workers are absolutely exhausted, I would ask the public to be very careful in the way that they use the NHS and seek alternatives than going to A&E in particular.
Asked about the effectiveness of Covid passes and what is evidence is there to support their use, Ms Morgan said: “The virus spreads in confined places where people stay for a long time so there’s plenty of evidence to support that, It’s really important that people understand this and take the measures seriously.”
Frankly given the number of emails I’ve had from people saying it has given them the confidence to go out, knowing that the people around them are also protected, I do think that we have to make sure that we’re listening to the voice of the majority here.”
86% of the population have had their double vaccination, I’d be very surprised if there are many people who are still really in a situation where they think that the voice and the rights of the minority (those who choose not to have the vaccine) overwhelm the voice of the majority .”
“We have got to be sensitive of course, we’ve got to understand that there will be people who can’t have the vaccine and that’s why it is not a vaccine passport, it’s vaccine pass, which means that you can take a lateral flow test to prove that you don’t have the virus.”
Despite criticism that the Covid pass doesn’t stop anyone from spreading or catching the virus, Ms Morgan said the system “is tried and tested.”
“It is very common on the continent, there are many, many European countries where in order to get access to venues, where you eat and drink, you do need to have the COVID pass.”
“So this is not something that’s unusual, It is something that where we’re taking the advice from scientists who are saying go early, all of these tiny little measures add up to additional protection and that’s what we’re doing, heeding the advice of the experts.”
Rather confusingly, Ms Morgan then referred to the Covid pass as a passport, she said, “I think the vaccine passport is something that actually the vast majority of the Welsh public want, “we know, we’ve done lots of investigation on this, actually they are happy with the situation.”
“So that’s where we’re at (and) actually the majority of the public is with us on this.”
“We’re very keen to make sure that we keep the public onside because at the end of the day we can only beat this virus if we all come together if we all take our responsibility seriously, and particularly go into those Christmas times, those Christmas parties, that we all take our responsibility seriously.”
Asked what Welsh Government’s Christmas party plans are this year? Ms Morgan said: “I don’t think we’ll be having major Christmas parties here, I must say.”
“We will be taking things very seriously and I think it’s really important that people understand, mixing in groups inside is a risky business at the moment.”
“This virus is not going away, we’re in a very different situation compared to last winter when we didn’t have the vaccine.”
Commenting on the latest three week review, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said:
“The First Minister is trying to portray a picture where no new restrictions are being introduced, but this is the week when coercive, ineffective, and anti-business vaccine passports have been expanded.
“This has come in tandem with the threat to bring them in to even more settings such as the hospitality sector that has already suffered significantly during the pandemic, yet might be lumbered with extra costs to implement the passport system.
“Vaccine passports are bad law: there is no evidence they work, whether that be limiting the spread of the virus or increasing uptake of the vaccine, and conditions for their withdrawal should be set out by the Labour Government.
“If ministers are concerned about coronavirus spikes this winter, then they should implement our proposals to establish walk-in centres for eligible people to get their booster jabs because we know vaccines, not passports, are what is keeping us safe.”
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