All Covid measures set to end in Wales on 28 March says Mark Drakeford
All legal measures Covid will be removed in Wales on 28 March if the public health situation remains stable, the First Minister has announced.
It means masks will no longer be needed in shops, public transport, hairdressers, salons and health and social care, and people with Covid will no longer be required to self-isolate for five days.
Previous rules on Covid passes and masks in many public places were lifted in Wales at the previous three week review on 11 February.
All Covid restrictions have already been scrapped in England and Northern Ireland and will end in Scotland on 21 March.
Wales will remain at alert level zero for the next three weeks with the current level of protections in place until then, Mark Drakeford said.
The First Minister will tomorrow publish Wales’ longer-term plan to live safely with coronavirus called Together for a Safer Future.
It will mark the start of Wales’ transition beyond the emergency measures have been in place for two years, and what that will mean for public health services and protections put in place to respond to the pandemic, including testing services, he said.
“We’ve been living in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic for two long years,” Mark Drakeford said. “It has touched all our lives – across Wales, families and communities have made many sacrifices to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. People in Wales have followed the rules.
“But sadly, too many families have experienced the pain of losing a loved one or a close friend. My thoughts are with them all.
“As we publish this longer-term plan, there is no doubt we have reached a significant moment in this pandemic and we can look to the future with growing confidence that the next year will be one in which we have a different relationship with the virus.
“This has been made possible by the hard work of everyone and by the efforts of all the health and care staff, public sector workers and volunteers who have done so much over the last two years.
“But the pandemic isn’t over – this virus is full of nasty surprises and we are likely to see fluctuations in global patterns of infection for several years. We need to be ready to respond quickly to any future outbreaks or new variants as we learn to live safely alongside coronavirus in the long-term.
“We have learned so much over the last two years and we need to harness this as we look forward to a safer and brighter future together.”
‘Long standing problems’
Responding to the announcement from Welsh Government following their latest review of Covid-19 regulations, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for health and care, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said that plans now needed to be in place to strengthen Wales’ health services.
“Government is now setting out where testing and self-isolating will still be needed and supported over coming months, which is welcome, but we now need to know exactly who will be identified as being in the vulnerable groups, and of course we have to know that testing will remain free,” he said.
“One thing we certainly know is the need to build resilience into plans for the future of our health and care services. Getting the NHS back on track isn’t just about waiting for Covid to go, and in fact it’ll be with us for some time yet.
“While Covid has certainly exacerbated problems, deep-rooted issues existed long before the pandemic. Consequently, the gradual move from pandemic to endemic must be accompanied by a plan which includes long term solutions to overcome long-standing problems.”
Together for a Safer Future: Wales’ Long-term Covid-19 Transition from Pandemic to Endemic sets out a gradual transition away from emergency measures, based on evidence and with the protection of everyone, especially the most vulnerable, at its heart.
The plan sets out how Wales’ response to coronavirus will change under the two core planning scenarios – Covid Stable and Covid Urgent.
Covid Stable is the most likely scenario – with Wales expected to encounter new waves of infection, but they are not expected to put unsustainable pressure on the NHS thanks to the effectiveness of vaccines and other pharmaceutical treatments, such as new Covid-19 antivirals.
The plan sets out a gradual, phased approach towards the long-term management of the virus under Covid Stable, including:
- Supporting people to maintain behaviours we have all become familiar with to help reduce the transmission of all respiratory infections, not just coronavirus.
- Vaccination boosters in spring for the elderly and most vulnerable adults, and a regular Covid-19 vaccination programme from the autumn.
- Test, Trace, Protect programme gradually moves away from universal and routine symptomatic and asymptomatic testing and the requirement to self-isolate, to a more targeted approach aimed at vulnerable people.
- Adaptation of public services, including, for example, using local risk assessments and outbreak control plans.
- Businesses and other employers to build on the elements of infection control they have put in place to protect staff and customers.
- Contingency planning is also underway to enable the Welsh Government and other public services to quickly respond to a Covid-Urgent scenario – such as a new variant which evades the vaccine – if necessary.
The next three-weekly review of the coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 24 March, when the remaining legal measures at alert level zero will be reviewed.
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