Easing of Wales coronavirus restrictions delayed due to rise in Delta variant

Credit: Welsh Government

The First Minister has confirmed a delay of at least four weeks to any major easing of Covid rules in Wales due to the spread of the Delta variant.

The Delta variant of the virus - previously known as the Indian variant - has been confirmed as the dominant strain in Wales.

Mark Drakeford announced the pause at a press conference on Friday, on a day when he had hoped to have lifted some of the restrictions on mixing indoors for people not in extended households or “bubbles.” 

Ahead of the announcement, Mr Drakeford wrote on Twitter: "Cases of the Delta variant are spreading across Wales. In the space a few weeks, cases have been confirmed in all parts of the country."We have reviewed all the evidence and will pause changes to the rules for 4 weeks."

These changes won’t now happen until at least July 19.

However, some minor changes will come into force on Monday. They include:

  • A relaxation on the limit of people allowed to attend an indoor wedding or civil partnership reception or a funeral wake, currently capped at 30.

  • It’s not clear what the new limit will be but the Welsh government says it will depend on the size of the venue and a risk assessment.

  • Gig-goers and comedy fans will be able to go to “grassroots” music and comedy venues on the same basis as people going to pubs and restaurants.

  • Primary school children in the same school contact group or bubble will be able to stay overnight in a residential outdoor education centre.

  • Pilot events in theatre, sport and other sectors will also continue throughout June and July.

    The number of people who can attend a wedding will increase under the minor changes of restrictions.

The delay comes as concerns increase about the Delta variant of the virus. The latest figures show that there are almost 490 cases of the variant in Wales. 

More than four out of five new Covid cases in Wales are the Delta variant and two-thirds of these are not linked to travel or contact with another case, suggesting community spread.

Wales’ coronavirus case rate has risen steadily since the end of May and the positivity rate has more than doubled – but it remains the lowest in the UK.

As other governments of the UK are doing, the Welsh government plans to use the delay to focus on the vaccine programme, to vaccinate younger people and to speed up second doses.

Ministers say there will be a deployment of more than half a million doses over the next four weeks.

The delay to the easing of restrictions may not be a surprise but it will come as a disappointment and follows another previous delay. 

The First Minister said we have the highest vaccination rates for first doses. Credit: ITV Wales

Wales was due to have moved to Alert Level 1 in the Welsh government’s unlocking plan on June 7th, which would have seen greater mixing inside people’s homes allowed along with bigger outdoor events allowed.

Instead the First Minister announced that it would be a two-phase approach with this week earmarked for phase two.  That won’t now go ahead and due to the legally-required three-week review cycle the next opportunity for major changes will come in the review planned for 15th July. 

This means there will be no substantial changes to the rules until Monday, July 19th at the earliest.

July 19 is also the delayed date when the UK government says it will lift all coronavirus restrictions in England. However, concerns about the Delta variant have led to suggestions that some restrictions will remain in place after that date. 

Speaking ahead of the announcement, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “In the space of just a few short weeks, the delta variant has entered Wales and quickly spread throughout the country. There is sustained and accelerating transmission, not just in North and South East Wales but in all parts of Wales.

“It is now the most dominant variant in new cases in Wales. We are once again facing a serious public health situation. 

"This week, we reached the target of offering all eligible adults their first dose vaccine six weeks ahead of schedule. But those offers won’t help protect people, unless everyone turns up for their first and second dose appointments."

“I would urge everyone to take up their invitation for a vaccine and to complete the full two-dose course. It’s the best way we can protect ourselves against this virus.”