‘We can’t rely forever on the law’: Mark Drakeford defends lifting restrictions while Covid cases rise
The First Minister has defended lifting Covid restrictions while seeing what he called a “very rapid rise in the number of people falling ill in Wales”, saying that “we can’t rely forever on the law”.
Mark Drakeford said that face masks no longer be legally required in shops and on public transport and the requirement to self-isolate with Covid will also move into guidance.
But he said that he wanted the people of Wales to “respect each other” and that it remained strong advice that they should still wear masks in crowded places.
“It’s always about a balance of risks,” he told BBC Radio Wales. “So yes, we are seeing an upswing in Omicron because of the new variant of it, but it is no more serious than the original variant.
“So while we are seeing more people in hospital with Coronavirus, we’re not seeing anything like the same rise in a number of people in hospital because of Coronavirus.
“The numbers are because of the incidental nature of Coronavirus. Somebody falls they break their leg when they arrive at the hospital. They are tested. They turn out to have Coronavirus, so they’re in hospital with Coronavirus but not because of it.
“We are seeing the numbers in intensive care remain broadly stable over the last 10 days. So that’s one aspect of the science, more cases of Coronavirus but not more serious as it would have been with earlier variants.
“Then we have the impact of vaccination which continues to have the best vaccination rates in the whole of the United Kingdom. The best booster campaign back over Christmas early in the new year and we’ve already started on the spring booster campaign bringing vaccination to the most vulnerable parts of the populations – you go put that into the calculation as well.
“And when you weigh all of these things up and as ever, it is a balancing act. The course of action that the cabinet has taken is to keep on course to a position where we rely on good advice, continue to adhere and still to all those things we’ve learned to do.
“But where we can’t rely forever on the law to find a pathway for us to dealing with a virus that’s going to be with us not just for weeks ahead, but for months and no doubt the whole of this calendar year.”
He added: “We have to be on the journey to the point where we find ways of continuing to behave together in a way that protects one another without always relying on the force of the law.
“So while we are no longer saying that the use of masks in shops and on public transport is mandatory, it remains the strong advice of the Chief Medical Officer.
“If you are in a crowded indoor place, that’s what you should do. We’re all used to doing it. The fact that the law doesn’t require you to do it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all continue to exercise our own responsibility to do the right thing.”
Mark Drakeford was also asked whether the local elections campaign had put political pressure on him to lift restrictions.
“No, absolutely not. The cabinet has made three times in the last week in order to make this decision,” he said.
“And I can assure you that local elections were not mentioned once in any of those hours of discussion. It simply doesn’t cross our mind as a factor. What we are focused on always is is the advice we are getting the facts on the ground as they’re being reported to us.
“Instead we looked at modelling we received from Swansea University as to what is likely to happen in the coming weeks and then trying to strike the best balance we can between keeping people in Wales safe, but also allowing Welsh society to return to a position where we are able to deal with Coronavirus as one of the range of things that we have to deal with in keeping ourselves healthy and well.”
He also told Sky News that he was hopeful that Wales would never have to go back to the kind of measures seen last Winter.
“We know the Coronaviru, doesn’t like the summer. The vaccination programme in Wales continues to lead the UK and that’s providing a real wall of defence against the virus,” he said.
“I don’t see us heading back to the level of restrictions we once had to live with. But I do and will today be asking people in Wales to continue to do the things that together provide the strongest defence, hand washing mask-wearing in COVID public places it won’t be legally required, but it’s definitely advisable.
“Just respecting one another, keeping that social distance where you can. All of those things add up together, and they make a real difference.”
He added that they had not been able to go as far as they hoped in lifting restrictions because of the rising number of cases.
“We had hoped to be able to lift all the remaining protections in Wales on Monday of next week,” he said. “And today, I’m having to say that we’re not able to do that, we will be able to take some further steps in that direction.
“Because in the end, we have to find a way of living safely with this virus, but we’re not going to be able to go as far as we had hoped, because as you say, we have seen in the last 10 days is very rapid rise in the number of people falling ill in Wales, and that’s already having an impact on our hospital system.”
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.