Wales lockdown measures to be strengthened as new Covid strain takes hold

Credit: PA Images

Lockdown measures in Wales will be strengthened as a new, highly infectious strain of coronavirus continues to circulate, the First Minister has said.

Speaking at the Welsh Government's daily press briefing, Mark Drakeford said the new strain has quickly taken a "firm foothold" in north Wales, where cases of the virus are rising quickly.

He added that the new strain is expected to become the dominant form of the virus in south Wales too.

It had already been confirmed that the level four lockdown restrictions introduced at midnight on December 19 will remain in place until at least January 29.

Today, Mark Drakeford said that safety measures would be strengthened for shops and workplaces and that students will continue to learn online until February half-term.

He also told ITV News that if these increased protections are not sufficient, there are further steps that could be taken in Wales.

Mr Drakeford said: "We have childcare open in Wales - it's closed in Scotland. Places of worship can open in Wales - they're not open in Northern Ireland. We allow Click-and-Collect to continue in Wales - that doesn't happen everywhere.

"But for the moment we're not needing to do that, because the measures we've taken already are having an impact.

"We now need to see that impact spread into the health service itself, reducing the number of people needing to be in our hospitals."

Watch: Mark Drakeford on strengthening Wales lockdown measures

During Friday's press briefing, Mr Drakeford told journalists: "We will be strengthening the alert level four measures in three main areas.

"First, we will work with our major supermarkets and retailers to make sure that people are safe when we go out shopping.

"I want to see at least the same level of protection today as was very visible in the early period of the pandemic.

"Those who work and shop in supermarkets need to be confident that the numbers in those stores are carefully and consistently controlled and that all other measures are in place to keep us all safe."

Mr Drakeford said he has received more correspondence on safety in shops than almost any other issue.

He there was some "anxiety" from the public that the visible protections in shops in the early days of the pandemic were, in some cases, no longer as apparent.

Elaborating on the plans, Mr Drakeford said he would work with businesses to put in place a more visible set of safety measures to give shoppers confidence.

These could include someone at the front door controlling numbers inside the shop, more visible sanitising arrangements, one-way markings and tannoy announcements encouraging shoppers to stay safe.

The First Minister said he wants to see a more visible set of safety measures in our shops to give people confidence. Credit: PA Images

Mr Drakeford continued: "Now, the key instruction in the Wales lockdown is to stay at home. But some people are unable to work from home. So, the second area that we will look to strengthen is protection in the workplace.

"The new strain of the virus is so much more infectious that we have to look again at the defences in place to keep Wales safe and workplaces safe, working with employers and trade unions to do so."

He said the third area for strengthening is schools and colleges, adding: "We are bringing decisions about schools and colleges into line with the three-week review cycle to give parents and staff as much certainty as we can at this very uncertain time.

"Most young people will now be taught online until January 29. And unless there is a significant further reduction in cases of Covid-19 by the next review, this will continue until February half term.

"In the meantime, vulnerable learners and children of critical workers will continue to have face-to-face learning and childcare remains open in Wales.

"We will use the coming weeks to work with our scientists, unions and local authorities to plan for the future."

Although there is no evidence that the new strain causes a more serious illness, it is adding to the pressure on the Welsh NHS, the First Minister said.

Mr Drakeford told journalists:

  • More than 2,700 coronavirus-related patients are being cared for in Welsh hospitals today

  • There are now 143 people with coronavirus in critical care beds.

  • The number of people in critical care has reached the highest point in the pandemic.

Ministers have just carried out a three-weekly review of the current restrictions. The next update will be on January 29.

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