Four week ‘stay local’ rule needed to have ‘significant impact’ on Omicron cases, scientists warned Welsh Government
Only a four-week lockdown would make a “worthwhile” dent in Omicron cases, according to scientific advice the Welsh Government were given before Christmas.
The Technical Advisory Group’s policy modelling update for 17 December, now published, says that anything short of a four-weeks of restrictions might have a “negligible benefit”.
However, four weeks at Alert Level 4 “could have a significant impact”. Alert level 4 rules include a stay local rule and no extended households of the kind last seen during early 2021.
The Welsh Government eventually decided on much less stringent measures before Christmas, including closing nightclubs, a rule of six and table service at hospitality venues.
The First Minister Mark Drakeford said that they would need more support from the UK Treasury if they were to introduce a stricter lockdown, as they would need to compensate businesses that would close.
The Technical Advisory Group advice on 17 December said that “protective measures, regardless of what they are, need to be implemented for a minimum of 4 weeks to be worthwhile in terms of total COVID-19 hospital admissions”.
The advice adds that “if alert level measures are going to be applied for two weeks only, there may be negligible benefit and a high cost of moving to alert level 4, but if introducing the protections for four weeks, alert level 4 could have a significant impact.”
The update does however warn that whatever measures are implemented by the Welsh Government, a large tide of Omicron cases were by that point inevitable.
“All scenarios estimate that peak cases will far exceed previous peaks regardless of population protections implemented,” it says.
“There are a maximum 11,000 to 24,000 estimated daily cases estimated (41,000 to 65,000 infections). This is highly likely to put pressure on the system in terms of high prevalence and sickness absence.”
Speaking on 17 December, the same day the new advice was issued, Mark Drakeford said that Wales’ ability to tackle Omicron was “severely constrained” by the Treasury’s refusal to help out the autonomous nations unless England also imposed restrictions.
He said that it was “not fair” that ministers making decisions for England knew money would be available while the same thing wasn’t true in Wales.
“Our ability to provide and sustain longer-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,” he said.
“These schemes should be available for all nations when they are needed and not just at the point at when restrictions are introduced in England.”
He added: “At the moment the system is not fair to us in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
“If ministers at the UK Government want to do something the Treasury will back it. If we want to make the same decisions here the money isn’t available.”
Later, on 22 December, he announced that a rule of six customers at a table, face masks and table service will be reintroduced in Wales from Boxing Day.
In addition, large events would not be allowed indoors or outdoors. The maximum number of people who can gather at an indoor event will be 30 and 50 outdoors, with some exceptions.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.