Only ‘low confidence’ Wales is past Omicron peak, scientists advised Welsh Government before restrictions eased
Scientists advised the Welsh Government they only had “low confidence” that Wales was past the peak of Omicron infections before Mark Drakeford decided to set out a timetable for the lifting of restrictions.
The latest advice from the government’s Technical Advisory Cell (TAC) and Chief Scientific Advisor for Health, dated to Thursday, shows that they warned that pupils’ return to school and more mixing in the workplace after the holidays might see another rise in case figures.
The TAC advised the Welsh Government not to roll back restrictions “significantly” until they were surer that they had passed the peak.
Yesterday, Mark Drakeford pointed to ONS survey and PCR case rate data to justify beginning to see restrictions, starting with the number who can gather outdoors today. From next Friday 21 January Wales will move to alert level zero for all outdoor activities, including crowds at elite sports matches.
“While Wales may be past the peak (low confidence), the reestablishment of networks following the return of schools and workplace mixing could see a return to epidemic growth (medium confidence),” the TAC advice says.
“Advice from TAG and SAGE suggest that protections should not be rolled back significantly until we can be more confident a peak has been reached. However, there may be opportunities to refine protective measures such that they are consistent with emerging scientific evidence and the balance of harms (socio-economic, mental health).”
The TAC waned that data suggested that cases “might” be falling but that ONS prevalence was “not yet falling, and has not reached the peaks observed in other
parts of the UK, we may still see a further plateauing or increase in cases”.
The scientific advice added: “As stated in previous advice and as has been observed, even with a reduced hospitalisation rate there remains a risk that a large number of cases can still lead to high numbers of COVID-19 hospital admissions and create significant pressure for the NHS.”
They also warned that “there remain a number of uncertainties around the long term impact of the Omicron variant (e.g. Long COVID) and the future trajectory of the
epidemic in Wales”.
Speaking yesterday, Mark Drakeford said that cases now seemed to be falling, based on PCR case rates, waste water tests and ONS surveys. But he said there was a “note of caution” about PCR tests.
“A change of testing rules means that people no longer need a positive PCR test if they have a positive Lateral Flow Test,” he said.
“The fall in cases began to happen a few days before the change to those rules. And the positivity rate has been falling itself.
“We’ve also looked at a wider range of indicators – wastewater studies also suggest that the extremely high levels of infection in the community are starting to slow down and come down. We can look as well at the ONS infection survey.
“Today we are in the optimistic place of being able to take those first steps back to alert level zero.”
He also stressed that the timetable for easing restrictions was subject to change if cases did not continue to fall as expected.
The First Minister yesterday laid out his full timetable for easing Covid restrictions in Wales, with the first change happening as soon as tomorrow.
Changes will be rolled out for outdoor activities first, with the number of people who can be present at out of doors events rising from 50 to 500 at midnight tonight.
From Friday 21 January Wales would move to alert level zero for all outdoor activities. This means there will be no limits on the number of people who can take part in outdoor activities.
- Crowds will be able to return to outdoor sporting events
- Outdoor hospitality would be able to operate without additional reasonable measures.
- The Covid Pass will be required for entry to larger outdoor events.
If the downward trend continues, from Friday 28 January Wales would move to alert level zero for all indoor activities.
- Nightclubs will be able to re-open.
- Working from home would remain important but it would no longer be a legal requirement.
- Businesses, employers and other organisations must undertake a specific coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus.
- The Covid Pass will be required for entry to nightclubs, events, cinemas, concert halls and theatres.
- The rule of 6, table service and 2m physical distancing no longer required in hospitality.
The self-isolation rules for all those who test positive for Covid and the face covering rules for most public indoor places will remain in force after 28 January.
The three-weekly cycle would be re-introduced from 10 February, when the Welsh Government will review all remaining measures at alert level zero.