Posted: Fri 17th Dec 2021

Mark Drakeford press conference on measures being taken to control the spread of the Omicron variant

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Friday, Dec 17th, 2021

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The Welsh government has issued “strong guidance” and urged people to stay safe over Christmas in the face of a “gathering storm” of Omicron.

Wales will remain at alert level zero for the time being but some alert level 2 type restrictions, including closing nightclubs and imposing a 2-metre social distancing rule in offices, will be brought in from 27 December to try to combat the incoming wave of the Omicron variant.

Regulations will also be changed from 27 December to include a “requirement to work from home wherever possible,” businesses will also have to put in extra measures to protect customers and staff, such as one-way systems and physical barriers.

In the run-up to Christmas, the Welsh government is urging people to reduce contact with others, “especially if we are seeing older people or more vulnerable people over Christmas, will help to protect them from the virus.”

First minister Mark Drakeford has held a press conference this afternoon, here is his speech in full:

Thank you for joining me once again today.

As I explained last week we are keeping a very close watch on the public health situation following the emergence of the new Omicron variant.

That variant is here in Wales and it is already spreading.

We have moved from a three week to a one week review of the Coronavirus regulations so that we have the right measures in place to keep Wales safe.

And to update you today about the very latest situation and the decisions that the cabinet here in the Welsh Government has taken to keep everyone safe this Christmas.

At the moment, the vast majority of Coronavirus infections in Wales are caused by the Delta variant.

We’re still dealing with a Delta wave in Wales.

That’s the form of Coronavirus which caused the large peak of cases earlier in the autumn.

Now the rate remains high across Wales, but it is high and stable, stable at around 500 cases per 100,000 people and we believe that the Delta form of Coronavirus will continue to be the main cause of infections in Wales up to Christmas. This is the calm before the storm.

We are seeing cases of Omicron increasing every day in Wales and across the United Kingdom.

There are around 100 confirmed cases in Wales and they are to be found in every health board area. By the end of December, it will be the dominant form of the virus in the United Kingdom.

Now this is a very fast-moving form, which is easily transmitted from person to person. It has spread rapidly throughout England and Scotland.

And because of how easily Omicron is transmitted and its ability to infect large numbers of people, we know that this could translate into large numbers of people being admitted to hospital.

We’re already seeing increases in the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 in London, and we have to be prepared for the same thing to happen here too.

That is why the decisions made by the cabinet yesterday are designed to keep us safe after Christmas while delta is still dominant, and then to put in place stronger measures to protect us after the Christmas period when we have to prepare for a large wave of infections.

Nobody wants to be ill at Christmas. So today we’re setting out new guidance and strong advice to help keep us all safe and well.

This is a virus that thrives on human contact. Every time we meet with other people there is an opportunity for the virus to spread or us to catch it.

The Omicron variant particularly likes big gatherings and enclosed spaces where it can easily move from person to person.

If you can please reduce the number of people you meet – especially if you’re seeing older or more vulnerable people over Christmas

To say stay safe in the run up to Christmas we strongly advise everyone to follow these measures to stay safe.

Get vaccinated, the single most important thing that you can do when you get your booster appointment, please make that your top priority for that day.

If you’re going out Christmas shopping or visiting people ‘flow before you’ – go take a lateral flow test and of course if it’s positive, then don’t go out.

Remember that meeting in outdoors is better than meeting indoors.

If you’re meeting indoors make sure it’s well ventilated, spread out your socialising, if you’re seeing family and friends don’t see them all in one go, and don’t forget about social distancing, wearing a face covering, and washing your hands.

Some places and some people are especially vulnerable to this disease, and updated guidance about care home visiting will be published before the end of this week.

The chief medical officer will be writing to everybody on the shielding list about the steps that they can take to protect themselves in the Omicron context.

We will be changing the law to make it clear that people must work from home wherever we can.

This year, without any doubt at all, a smaller Christmas will be a safer Christmas because we expect cases of Omicron to increase rapidly after Christmas.

We will introduce new protective measures on the 27th of December to help control its rapid spread and to prevent large numbers of people from needing hospital care.

We’ll be drawing on elements of the alert level two regime and many of those will be familiar to you because they were used to keep businesses open in a safe way earlier in the pandemic.

Shops, workplaces and businesses will reopen here in Wales after Christmas.

But with those new protections in place, they will be a strengthened set of reasonable measures, which will include a return to the two meter rule for social distancing.

It means the shops, businesses and workplaces will need to make some extra changes to the way they operate.

Putting in place measures such as one way systems and physical barriers.

Night clubs will close from the 27th of December. And we are having further discussions with sector representatives or public health advisors and sporting bodies about major events which are planned in the post Christmas period.

For all of those reasons, financial support of up to £60 million pounds will now be made available to businesses materially affected by these new restrictions.

We’re working with partners about how that support can most effectively be delivered.

Further details about the practicalities of it will be available as quickly as possible.

Our ability to provide and sustain long term economic support during this new wave of what is an ongoing public health emergency is severely constrained by the current position of the UK treasury and its refusal to open vital support schemes such as furlough.

These schemes should be available for all nations when they are needed, not just at the point when restrictions are introduced in England.

We have been able to manage Coronavirus here in Wales with the lowest level of restrictions in place for the last six months, we had all hoped for a new year in which the pandemic would become a fading memory but sadly Omicron poses a new threat to our health and to our safety.

It is the most serious development in the pandemic to date, and it’s one that we must take seriously and put in place proportionate measures to protect people’s lives and livelihoods as ever.

We have learned that together, we can keep Wales safe.

Let me end by wishing everyone a happy and above all a safe Christmas and on your behalf, I wanted to thank everyone who will be working this Christmas to keep the rest of us safe, especially those who have had to cancel their own plans to work in the vaccination to increase our protection against this awful virus.

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