What are the Covid restrictions in Wales now and over Christmas and New Year?

‘Rule of six’ returns in hospitality settings as first minister Mark Drakeford raises country to ‘alert level two’

<p>Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford</p>

Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford

As the Omicron variant takes hold across Britain, Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford has moved to toughen social restrictions from Boxing Day, reintroducing the “rule of six” for hospitality venues and moving the country to “alert level two”.

Mr Drakeford said Wales was facing a “very serious situation” as a result of the variant, with “many thousands” of new cases expected per day after Christmas.

Effective from 6am on 26 December, his government will now introduce a “general requirement of two metre social distancing in all premises open to the public and workplaces, where reasonable”.

Gatherings in venues such as pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres will be limited to six people while all licensed premises will be required to bring back table service. Face coverings will also be mandatory apart from when customers are seated.

Mr Drakeford added on Wednesday that large events will not be allowed indoors or outdoors, with the maximum number of people of people who can gather at indoor event being capped at 30 and 50 outdoors.

The Welsh government said it will not be making rules about mixing inside households and private gardens in small numbers, instead issuing guidance strongly advising people to “limit the number of people visiting your home” and taking lateral flow tests before visiting others.

However, a separate offence will be created for large gatherings inside homes with more than 30 people or 50 people outdoors.

“We are facing a very serious situation in Wales. A wave of infections caused by the new, fast-moving and very infectious omicron variant is headed our way,” the first minister said.

“This new form of coronavirus could infect large numbers of people in Wales, disrupting daily lives and businesses and could cause an increase in the number of people who need hospital care in the coming weeks.

“We will do everything we can to protect people’s health and livelihoods in Wales – this means taking early action to try and control its spread.”

Throughout the first half of December, Wales continued to have relatively light Covid-19 guidance in place, asking the public to observe social distancing and meet outdoors when possible, wear masks in public spaces, wash hands with care and be prepared to show an NHS Covid Pass for entry to cinemas, theatres and concert halls.

But that was changed on Monday 13 December when Mr Drakeford announced that all eligible adults in Wales would be offered a booster jab by the end of the year, warning his compatriots that more severe restrictions could be implemented after Christmas.

After two Welsh Cabinet meetings the following Thursday, when the country’s total number of Omicron cases reached 100, it was announced that the country would move to significantly tighter measures from 27 December.

In the interim, people were advised to follow a set of five steps for a “safer Christmas”, which were as follows:

  • Get vaccinated – and make attending your booster appointment a priority.
  • Take a lateral flow test before Christmas shopping or visiting people, and don’t go out if positive.
  • Meeting outdoors is better than indoors. If you’re meeting indoors make sure it’s well ventilated.
  • Space out your socialising – if you’ve got events arranged, leave at least a day between them.
  • Don’t forget about social distancing, wearing a face covering and washing your hands.

The regulations were also changed to include a requirement to work from home wherever possible.

“As we know, the traditional way of doing things in Wales is people go out together and socialise in the run-up to Christmas, and then in the post-Christmas period there’s a standing back from that,” Mr Drakeford told ITV Wales.

“There may be a period in the post-Christmas days when we can do more to stem the flow of the Omicron variant.”

His government has since doubled its original commitment of £60m in funding to help businesses affected by the new measures, extending £120m to bail out nightclubs, retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses affected by the move to alert level two.

Health minister Baroness Eluned Morgan had previously warned that the devolved government was “currently not taking anything off the table” as infections rise.

“The last thing we want to do is cancel Christmas. I think it is important we make that absolutely clear,” she told journalists at a briefing.

“But we are not currently taking anything off the table either, so the best thing for people to do, in order to see if we can remain in a situation where we are all able to see each other over Christmas is to take precautions now, so that we don’t see the kind of increasing rates that we are all expecting.

“A lot of this is in our hands, as individuals and as a community. The more you mix now, the more likely you are to contract Covid, and this particular form of Covid.”

Baroness Morgan’s department is striving to hit a target of 200,000 booster vaccinations a day, with health boards again opening pop-up centres, including walk-in and drive-through clinics with longer opening hours, often partially staffed by volunteers.

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