The First Minister will announce the next review of COVID restrictions on Friday amid huge uncertainty about the impact of Omicron in Wales.
Mark Drakeford is facing calls from the hospitality sector that unless things change, there will be a “wave of job losses and bankruptcies” in businesses that have been “leaning backwards” for nearly two years. Bars are closing, Wales is blaming sanctions, and a nightclub boss has warned of bankruptcy and job losses.
At the same time, the number of coronavirus cases is increasing rapidly, public services are facing enormous pressure as staff are sick or isolated, and the number of COVID patients in hospital beds and ICU beds is increasing. Check out the latest COVID stats here.
Boris Johnson has confirmed there will be no more Covid rules in England for the next three weeks, meaning far fewer restrictions across the border, a decision taken by the Welsh government’s cabinet will receive intense attention as the minister for sanctions Let’s make our decision on the next step. Thursday.
Adding to the pressure on the First Minister, Labor’s deputy leader Angela Raynor told the prime minister’s questions on Wednesday that “it is certainly true that Plan B measures should remain in place”, adding that she called for stricter restrictions. The need was stopped. Yet Mr Drakeford is leading this review of his tough restrictions to some extent without fully understanding the impact of the measures currently in force.
We are yet to fully see the impact of the divergence between the rules in Wales and England. It is likely that the effect of New Year’s Eve in England will be visible only on the infection rate in the coming days.
However despite the restrictions in Wales, the infection rate is rising. It rose to more than 2,000 per 100,000 population on Wednesday and nearly doubled the number of hospitalized patients with Covid in the past 10 days.
The last hospitalization time was on March 17, 2021, at the tail end of the second delta wave. There has been a recent increase in the number of patients in Welsh ICUs, with 47 patients in intensive care on 4 January, compared to 33 on the last day of 2021.
The rapid increase in cases is having a major impact on public services. Wales’ education minister has warned of disruption in schools due to the isolation of teachers, severe staff shortages in care homes and hospitals reporting extreme pressure.
With all of this in mind, we have looked at the First Minister’s options in this review:
1. Stick to Existing Restrictions
Wales introduced some of the strictest new rules in the UK when we moved to a version of Alert Level 2 restrictions on 26 December. As part of this, hospitality reverted to the rule of six, nightclubs were closed and laws on the number of people who could visit were introduced.
England was the only country not to announce any new measures to tackle the variant, although UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid at the time said restrictions were “probable” in January.
While Mr Drakeford may prefer to keep restrictions in place due to concerns about the virus, there is significant pressure from the hospitality and sports industries to think again. Wales is in talks to host its home Six Nations Games in England. And hospitality firms are warning of bankruptcy.
Bruno Nunes, chief executive of Creative Hospitality Group, which owns popular venues such as Peppermint and BrewDog, called on the first minister to provide “significant evidence” that justifies the restrictions. He said the hospitality and evening and night-time economy sectors were “singled out” as the most dangerous environments for the virus to spread.
Mr Nunes said: “Despite this proof being promised before Christmas, when restrictions were further tightened with the introduction of the six-and-table service rule, it has yet to materialise. Currently, I And my colleagues both feel that these are closed and the sanctions are completely unreasonable. With no evidence to support them, they do nothing more to separate Wales from England and penalize a territory who have been leaning backwards to follow the rules laid before us for more than 18 months.
“The damage caused by the closure of nightclubs and restrictions in hospitality is acute and will be accompanied by a wave of job losses and imminent bankruptcies in businesses that have suffered the most since the start of the pandemic.”
2. Announce more funding for worst-hit businesses
Mr Drakeford was clear before Christmas that his hands were tied about how much financial aid he could offer badly hit businesses as the Omicron edition took its toll. He told ministers that despite UK government ministers being given “powerful cases”, there was no indication the Treasury would withhold any cash to help bail out Wales.
On 22 December, Mr Drakeford confirmed £120 million would be available to nightclub, retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses affected by the move to alert level two – up from the new £60 million package announced just weeks earlier. double. But businesses took a hit saying the package was “not even close” to what they needed to see what should be their busiest time of year. Read his comments here.
Speaking on Wednesday ahead of Friday’s next review, Mr Nunes said: “When the nightclub closure was announced, a funding package with £60m to cover the nine-week period was also announced This was due to be distributed among the two hundred businesses affected. Only a few days later additional restrictions were imposed for hospitality and indoor venues, including shops, which would see the return of social distancing, the six-and-table service rule .
“The government then announced that the total funding package would be increased to £120 million, but it now needs to support thousands of businesses across multiple sectors. How are we going to survive these nine weeks?
“From my own business point of view, CHG could be entitled to £90,000 in nine weeks. It would not cover my staff salaries, rent and loan repayment costs for even a week. We need more support, we need more Clarity is needed and most importantly we need evidence that shows why our sector has been targeted so harshly.
“Our industry contributes £105bn to the UK economy each year. Why is the First Minister putting the Welsh economy at risk in this way?”
3. Immediately impose stricter lockdown restrictions – probably to alert level three
O’Micron’s communicability concerns have proven to be true and currently, every day for Wales brings a record new infection rate. Read the latest figures from Wales here.
But for the re-imposition of restrictions to stop this spread to be effective, severe restrictions on people’s behavior would have to be imposed. One option would be to move to alert level three, which is lower than a complete lockdown, but would involve larger restrictions on a mix of businesses and people.
At Alert Level Three all indoor hospitality will be closed, such as gyms, indoor attractions, entertainment facilities, theaters and concert halls. All retail would be able to remain open and up to six people could meet outside while only extended families could meet indoors.
This could take the form of a ‘short, rapid’ lockdown aimed at bringing spiraling virus rates under control, giving hospitals some breathing room during the vaccination schedule.
It turns out that scientists had advised to implement a four-week lockdown before Christmas. The Technical Advisory Cell (TAC) – which looks at the data and models how the various restrictions will work – said an alert level four (complete lockdown) measure for two weeks from December 27 would be the best way forward.
But Mr Drakeford insists he was right to discount it and added: “The advice we are given changes from day to day as more information is fed into the model. We think is that the measures we took, the level two measures, were proportional to the time that we took them.
“We have this long-standing argument with the Treasury in London. When ministers in England decide they need to step up to levels they know they can attract Treasury money to do so. We, as Scotland and Northern Ireland, are not in the same position so we will not be able to move to level four on our own.”
Wales simply cannot do it alone and has its own long lockdown without a furlough scheme reintroduced by the UK government. Wales does not have the financial strength to pay people’s wages and protect their jobs for any significant period of time.
4. Lift Restrictions
It is unlikely that existing restrictions are lifted amid the record daily number of cases and rising hospitalization ministers.
But we have better protection against the virus thanks to the rollout of the COVID vaccine. At least three-quarters of all people aged 18+ have now received both doses of the COVID vaccine and all eligible adults were offered their booster jab by the end of December.
The data shows that, so far, with Omicron the link between cases and serious illness has been significantly weakened, probably due to the effect of the vaccine. There’s no doubt that the vaccine has kept hospital numbers down during the fall and spring so far. While there has been a rapid increase in cases and patients, the number on ventilators has barely increased till the last few days.
There is no doubt that this wave is putting a huge strain on our health and other public services, but so far it has not had as much impact in terms of critical illness and the pressure placed on the ICU. But as always, there are some caveats to this, especially given the fact that the Omicron wave is still very much evolving and not over yet. As we saw on Tuesday, the cases are still rising and increasing rapidly. The latest pre-Christmas data showed that infection rates were being driven by people in their twenties and thirties.
We know that covid has a very long life span, so if the infection rate starts to climb in the elderly, the share of admissions in people aged 60+ will go up and that could increase the number of those patients whose condition becomes serious. So lifting the ban will increase the chances of this happening.
And while the data suggests a less severe illness this winter than last, that doesn’t mean everything is fine in hospitals. The number of hospital staff absent due to COVID (either sick or isolated) has increased over the past week or two, with a Welsh health board staffing 500. Read here about the scale of NHS staff currently laid off with Covid across Wales.
5. Other tailored options
There is every possibility that, as we learn more about the Omicron variant, how serious it is and who it affects the most, the Welsh government may choose to introduce measures that do not necessarily apply to the current alert. match the levels.
The Welsh Government has reiterated that nothing is “off the table”. And the ministers have to not only damage the covid but also the economic loss, social damage and mental health damage.
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