Pre-Christmas lockdown in Wales not ruled out, says health minister Vaughan Gething

A move to the highest alert level in Wales would see the hospitality industry closed, except for takeaway and delivery. Credit: PA Images

A pre-Christmas lockdown has not been ruled out for Wales as coronavirus cases spike, the health minister has said.

The Welsh Government - which recently introduced tougher measures around hospitality, indoor tourism and education in a bid to tackle the virus - had previously said it did not expect to make further changes this side of Christmas.

But on Monday, Vaughan Gething said a move to the highest alert level - equivalent to a lockdown - was one option being looked at.

During a press conference, a journalist had asked him, "Germany has just gone into a hard lockdown, despite having an infection rate a fraction of what we're seeing here. Is there still a possibility that if cases keep rising you'd be forced to do the same here in Wales before Christmas?"

Mr Gething replied, "Every option is still available to us. We'll continue to have those discussions. We'll continue to take evidence from the chief medical officer; from our scientific advisors. We'll also, crucially, take evidence from the chief executive of NHS Wales about the reality of service pressures.

"We'll then have to make balanced choices. We have to think about the real-world impact in terms of both lives and livelihoods. These are not straightforward choices."

Wales is currently at alert level 3 - or ‘high risk’ - where restrictions are at their strictest short of a fire-break or lockdown.

But Mr Gething suggested Wales could move to alert level 4 - ‘very high risk’ - before Christmas. Restrictions at this level would be equivalent to a lockdown.

It comes as doctors in Wales have called for a lockdown before the festive period and to "write Christmas off" to save lives.

On Friday, Mark Drakeford had said he "didn't expect" to need to take further action before Christmas, explaining that recent changes to hospitality, indoor tourism and schooling should be allowed to take effect.

He told journalists, "In relation to further action before Christmas, I don't expect to need to do that.

"The measures we have taken, together with what each one of us can do, should be allowed a chance to work and should be enough to begin to turn the tide on the accelerating rise in the virus. And we have to be willing to give those things a chance."

The Welsh Government, along with the other governments of the UK, is also resisting calls to rethink plans to allow up to three households to meet up indoors over Christmas.

Concerns are mounting that there could be a fresh spike in Covid-19 cases if the rules are relaxed.

During today’s press conference, Vaughan Gething said it was not the Welsh Government's "preference" to change the easing of restrictions over Christmas but added, "You can never say never. If the virus continues to grow, then we'll need to make choices to keep people safe.

"So nothing is off the table, but it does rely on the choices that each of us are prepared to make."

On Friday, Mark Drakeford had said, "I don’t think that allowing people a brief and modest opportunity to celebrate Christmas together is just sentimentality.

"It is recognising that for many people, this year has been an incredibly tough time, where they have not been able to see the people who matter most to them for weeks and months on end.

"It’s an incredibly difficult balancing act between being realistic with people and being serious with people, and not pulling back from the difficulties of the situation we’re in, while still offering people some hope for the future. Because if you can’t offer people some hope, then I think it’s very difficult indeed for people to feel that they can play the part we want them to play."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said No 10 was not reconsidering the relaxation.

Downing Street stressed on Monday that the public should remain "jolly careful" over the festive period, but said there are no plans to review the guidance after a "very difficult year for many people".