First Minister says ‘Wales can look forward to a bright future’ as Covid restrictions end
First Minister Mark Drakeford says Wales can look forward to a brighter future, as the last remaining coronavirus protections in law come to an end.
After more than two years of living with coronavirus regulations, these will expire on Monday May 30 when the requirement to wear a face covering in health and care settings ends.
But the Welsh Government will continue to recommend people take simple steps to protect their health – including wearing face coverings in those settings.
The First Minister said: “The pandemic has had a profound impact on all our lives – everyone has made sacrifices and changes over the last two years. But it is thanks to all your efforts that we can move beyond the emergency response while still living safely with this virus.
“I want to thank everyone for all you have done to protect yourselves and your loved ones. You have followed the rules and you have kept Wales safe.
“This three-week review of the coronavirus regulations is a significant milestone – we are completing our careful and gradual transition away from legal protections and away from the emergency response to the pandemic.”
The public health situation is continuing to improve in Wales – results from recent ONS Coronavirus Infection Surveys show the number of people with Covid-19 is falling.
But in the past week, the four UK chief medical officers have warned about the risk from new variants – BA.4 and BA.5.
The First Minister said Wales will remain alert to these and is ready to scale up testing and vaccination arrangements once again if the public health situation changes.
The number of Covid-19 related patients has also fallen to less than 700 and is at its lowest level since 28 December 2021, although the NHS remains under pressure from a combination of emergency and pandemic pressures with a significant number of staff absences.
Mr Drakeford added: “We remain alert to the threat of new and emerging variants, and we will be ready to respond if we see a rapid spread of the virus, causing widespread harm.
“Continuing to take simple steps, including staying up to date with vaccinations; self-isolating if you have Covid-19 symptoms and maintaining good hand hygiene, will be important in helping us all to enjoy a safer and brighter future together.”
From Monday 30 May, the legal requirement to wear a face covering in health and care settings will end. This follows the outcome of the three-weekly review of coronavirus regulations and completes the government’s gradual, phased easing of legal restrictions since January.
Welsh Conservative shadow health minister Russell George MS said he was “delighted” at the news while criticising what he claims was Labour’s “overreaction” to the Omicron variant.
“Not only do we need to remember all those who lost lives and loved ones to lockdowns and the virus itself, but learn the lessons of the pandemic about how we can counter another one and assess the impact of deploying harsh emergency restrictions on our population,” he said.
He joined his colleagues in calling on the Welsh Government to carry out a Wales-specific inquiry, accusing them of being “scared of scrutiny”.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson for health and care, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said: “Emergency COVID regulations might have come to an end, but the challenges that face our NHS have not – indeed, they were the same challenges that were there before the pandemic.
“We owe it to our hard-working staff to make sure that plans for NHS recovery don’t just try to take us back to where things were at the start of the pandemic, but to bring our health service on to a more sustainable footing, by reducing waiting times, speeding up the patient journey, and joining up health with social care.”
Commenting on the removal of the mandating of wearing masks in health and care settings, Mr ap Iorwerth added: “I share the nervousness among health professionals about the removal of the need to wear masks in health and care settings, because of vulnerability of so many in the sector.
“Welsh Government must make sure they monitor very carefully the extent to which people follow the guidance for people to continue wearing them in these settings.”
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