A third wave of coronavirus during the summer is “likely” but will not necessarily see restrictions reimposed in response, Wales’s First Minister has said.
Mark Drakeford said he is “hopeful” that a spike in Covid-19 cases caused by the return of freedoms will be mitigated by the country’s vaccination programme and better understanding of the virus.
On Friday, he confirmed that indoor supervised activities for children, indoor organised activities for up to 15 adults, and the reopening of community centres are being brought forward from May 17 to May 3.
Mr Drakeford also said indoor hospitality and all tourism accommodation can reopen from May 17, subject to confirmation by the party that leads the Welsh Government following the Senedd election.
Asked whether he is easing restrictions early in the hope that the spike will occur during the warmer months, Mr Drakeford told the PA news agency: “The modelling does show a third spike is likely to happen in the summer.
“But there’s a tension there. If it happens in the summer, in some ways that makes it more manageable.
“On the other hand, every week we can push it back is another week where we vaccinate people and that might make that wave a smaller one and less steep.
“In a way, governments are not in control of where those waves come. I am hopeful that, when we see a further wave, it will not be of the sort that will need us to take the sorts of very blunt actions we’ve had to take in the last calendar year.”
Mr Drakeford said the combination of the vaccination programme, better knowledge of handling cases of Covid-19, and the expected warm weather means “we will be able to deal with a third wave without us needing to go back to the sorts of actions we’ve needed to take so far”.
He added that England’s date for reopening indoor hospitality, and issues with people meeting up to drink in unregulated settings, played a role in his plan to fully reopen the sector on the same day as England – May 17.
“I do take into account the border issue. So much of our population is alongside the border and, when things happen on the other side of the border, I think about that,” he told PA.
“I think about what people say about people being able to have a drink in a regulated setting and that being better than people doing it elsewhere.
“But the dominant reason is because coronavirus is in a better place here in Wales, because our vaccination programme is going from strength to strength, and that’s what’s given us the headroom to set out what we’ve set out today.”
Wales has the lowest level of virus infections in the UK and is third in the world in terms of vaccine delivery, while case rates are below 15 per 100,000 people.
But Mr Drakeford warned that coronavirus is “not over” and asked the public to do what they can to keep the virus “benign” in Wales.
The Welsh Labour leader denied that bringing forward some reopenings and outlining a date for indoor hospitality to resume with two weeks to go to the Senedd election on May 6 is an attempt to influence voters.
The changes mean Wales will now complete its move to Alert Level 3 by May 3 – three days before the election – but the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru have accused Mr Drakeford of using his powers as well as Welsh Government press briefings to unfairly influence the result.
“There’s an election on and parties will say what they want to say,” Mr Drakeford said.
“I turn up on the Friday at the end of the three weeks whether I’ve got difficult news to tell people or whether I’ve got better news to tell people. I do it as the First Minister.”
Mr Drakeford told a Welsh Government press briefing later on Friday that rates of Covid-19 in the country have fallen faster than he anticipated, which has allowed some restrictions to be eased earlier than planned.
“This is preliminary, of course, but we’re seeing the signs that vaccination is reducing the number of people coming in through the front door of the hospital, and that’s another reason why we are able to bring the end of some of those restrictions forward,” he said.
Mr Drakeford said he will continue to receive advice from the chief medical officer about the wearing of face coverings in public places.
“At the moment, the advice is that it is still a useful part of the defences that we have to keep one another safe,” he said.
From Monday, outdoor hospitality can reopen and up to six people can meet outdoors with no limit on the number of households they can come from, not including children under 11 years of age or carers from those households.
Outdoor attractions including swimming pools, funfairs and theme parks, as well as outdoor organised activities and wedding receptions, both for up to 30 people, can also take place.
From May 3, gyms and leisure centres can reopen, and people can form extended households with one other household.
Support The Courier today.
The Courier is committed to delivering quality content to our communities and right now that’s more important than ever — which is why our key content is free. However, you can support us and access premium content by subscribing to The Courier from just £5.99 a month. Because Local Matters.Subscribe