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The First Ministers statement on Health Protection Measures Post-Firebreak

Written by on 3rd November 2020

The Chief Executive of NHS Wales has reported earlier today on the impact of the virus on our health service.  There are currently 1,275 covid related patients in Welsh hospitals, 18% higher than last week, and the highest number since late April.  We expect this rising trend to continue until the impact of the firebreak comes through. 

In spite of this increasing pressure, our hospitals continue to provide planned activity, with cancer referrals returning to expected levels, and the number of new outpatients 75% higher in September than in April.  Our actions have been designed not simply to protect our NHS’s ability to provide care to covid patients, but to go on doing all the other things that matter so much.

During the firebreak, we have taken steps to strengthen our response to the virus and to implement our NHS winter protection plan.  Innovations such as the Accident and Emergency booking service will be accelerated, and LHBs continue to work on plans to make the best use of our field hospital capacity.

Our Test, Trace and Protect service continues to perform strongly in dealing with significantly increased case numbers, and its resources have been increased.  New local test centres have been opened to improve access, including to students, and more are planned.  Innovations are being developed to increase lab capacity and enable point of care testing which could be particularly valuable in hospital and care home settings.  The Health Minister will update Members on new testing technologies in the coming days.  

Llywydd, during the past week we have continued the consultative approach we have taken throughout this pandemic, talking to partners before we make decisions, not simply informing them once decisions are made. 

I am grateful to all those who have contributed to these discussions: the shadow social partnership council which includes trade unions, business and other partners, the inter-faith forum, the WLGA and local authority leaders, the WCVA and the third sector council, the PCCs and Chief Constables of the Welsh Police forces, and to young people from Children in Wales and many others. 

Llywydd, all these partners will be directly affected by the regulations we make this week and each has contributed to shaping them.  We will finalise the regulations once we have had an opportunity to hear the views of the Senedd on my statement today. 

The result is that from 9 November we will introduce a national response, with one set of rules for the whole of Wales.  These will enable some aspects of life to resume gradually, but the virus has not gone away and it is only through behaving responsibly and protecting each other that we will make headway in coming out of this emergency. 

Llywydd, from Monday; we propose to change the law in the following ways.

Churches, temples, synagogues and other places of worship will be able to re-open as they were before the fire break.

Community centres will also re-open. 

Universities will continue to operate as they have during the fire break, and schools and colleges are now welcoming back all pupils and students.

Shops, gyms and other all other premises open to the public required to close during the firebreak will reopen. But in all these premises and in workplaces, the legal requirement to take all reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus continues to apply, to protect staff and customers alike.

This includes pubs, cafés and restaurants.  These will re-open but we ask that people visit these places in as small a group as possible, and for many, this will only be the people they live with.  But we have listened to those young people and single people who told us how important it is for them to meet some friends and other family members.

So the regulations will allow groups of up to 4 individuals to meet in a regulated setting such as a restaurant, café or pub.  But this is subject to strict protections discussed with the hospitality sector, including advance booking, time-limited slots and verified identification. As in all aspects of our lives, maintaining the basics of good hygiene and keeping our distance will be crucial in these settings.

This is a permission, not something we are encouraging people to do.  It is the most challenging change from a public health perspective and will be kept under continuous review.  It’s success depends on the actions of the sector and each of us to use this permission responsibly and sparingly.

Llywydd, the 10pm end on alcohol sales will remain in place.

Certain organised activities for groups of up to 15 people indoors, and 30 people outdoors, will be allowed, with risk assessments and all reasonable measures taken to minimise the risk of contracting or spreading coronavirus. These activities will not be able to involve the sale or consumption of alcohol.

There will be a separate exception for up to 15 people to attend a reception for a wedding or civil partnership or a funeral wake, but these should involve a sit down meal.

Children under 11 will not count towards the limits on meeting others in regulated settings.

At home, including in the garden, people will only be able to meet others from their extended household, and an extended household will be limited to just two households coming together.

If we are to make the most of the gains the firebreak period has created, then we must avoid the riskier types of behavior beyond that period altogether.  House parties, larger events and gatherings indoors continue to be unlawful, and we are making this clearer in our regulations.

So that we keep the new national rules as simple as possible, we will not return to local travel restrictions. People will be able to travel anywhere within Wales, but we are asking everyone to behave responsibly, to stay close to home and continue to limit their contact with others.

While the England lockdown is in place, travel to and from England will be prohibited by English regulations unless it is for an essential reason such as work, or education.  Recognising that Wales will come out of the firebreak as a high prevalence area of the UK, we will also place travel restrictions on people leaving or entering Wales until those rates come down. International travel will not be allowed without a reasonable excuse.

Llywydd, it is essential that anyone with coronavirus symptoms self-isolates immediately, and quickly get a test.  If they test positive, they must self-isolate and their contacts must do so as well. 

There will be a new legal requirement to reinforce this and to make sure employers do not discourage people from self isolating, as well as new support to make this easier for those on low incomes.

Llywydd, we are about to begin the next stage in our national effort to control the virus.  At the heart of that effort is all of us and the way we go about our lives. 

We all need to take steps to keep each other safe. Many people have made huge sacrifices to live within the rules before the firebreak.  I am grateful to them.  Over the winter period, we must all live our lives differently so that the effort we have made together is not wasted and we do not have to undergo a further firebreak later in the year. 

We must all keep our contacts with others to an absolute minimum, keep the circle of people we meet as small as possible, and consider other ways of keeping in touch.

Llywydd, in the weeks after 9 November we will have more evidence on the impact of the fire break.  We will review these measures to check they are proportionate and effective. 

But we must be under no illusion.  After the firebreak ends the virus will still be with us.  In the weeks ahead we must ask ourselves not “what can I do”, but “what should I do”, to keep myself and others in Wales safe from this terrible disease.