First Minister defends extention of Covid pass to enter smaller venues in order 'to keep Wales open'

161211 drakeford covid pass
Credit: Welsh Government/PA

The First Minister has defended the use of Covid passes here in Wales and refused to rule out extending their use to other businesses.

But he said that Wales is in a “better position” with regard to the pandemic than it was when he warned of further restrictions three weeks ago. 

And another Welsh Government minister said there are “no immediate plans” to increase the use of Covid passes. 

The passes were first introduced for nightclubs and some large scale events in October.

From the 15 November, they are now compulsory for anyone attending theatres, cinemas and concert halls. 

They are controversial with opponents claiming that they amount to “vaccination passports” and infringe people’s civil liberties. 

When the proposal was first voted on by Senedd members, it came close to being blocked by opposition parties who united to vote against the Welsh Government. 

But Welsh ministers insist that they are not straightforward vaccine passports because they also allow people who can’t be vaccinated to prove that they’ve had a negative lateral flow test. 

The Covid regulations are reviewed every three weeks with the next review due on 18 November.

When the last review was announced, Mark Drakeford warned that if cases hadn’t begun to fall, he might have to consider further restrictions, including extending the use of Covid passes to pubs and other hospitality venues. 

Covid passes have been required to gain entry to venues such as nightclubs and music and sports events

During First Minister’s Questions in the Senedd today, he was challenged by the Conservative leader Paul Davies who said, “Concerns have rightly been raised about the legal and ethical impacts of covid passes and the fact remains that there is no evidence to show the vaccine passports limit the spread of the virus, or indeed increase uptake of the vaccine.

“This week there are genuine fears that the Welsh Government will extend covid passes out to hospitality settings too.

“First Minister vaccine passports are not a route out of restrictions. They are indeed restrictions. Therefore, First Minister as vaccine taker continues to increase, and covid cases continue to go down, will you today confirm that you will not roll out these covid passes to hospitality settings?”

In response, Mark Drakeford said that the Conservative leader “has got it completely wrong. Covid passes are there to help keep Wales open.”

He said they’ve been introduced here in Wales, “very successfully, very smoothly and done by people who work hard to protect the Welsh public.

"It will help to keep businesses open. That's what it's designed to do. And I make no apologies for it whatsoever. It was the right thing to do.”

Referring to his warning from the previous review announcement, the First Minister said that, “Three weeks ago, when the cabinet were making its decisions, we had just reached a peak of 730 cases for 100,000 in Wales, the highest figure on any day in the whole of the pandemic period. 

“Thankfully, because of the efforts that people in Wales have made, because of the extra things that we have put in place, those numbers have now reduced.

"And as the numbers reduce, then the need to take extra measures beyond those in place now reduces as well. 

“But in the last two days, so if those numbers have turned up, again, they are up significantly in Scotland in the last week. They vary significantly in countries very close to the United Kingdom. So nobody should think that we are somehow out to the woods on this yet. 

“The Cabinet will look very carefully at the numbers. We are thankfully in a better position than we were three weeks ago when battle formed the context for the decisions that we will announce at the end of this week.”

Speaking during a Welsh Government press conference, the Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said there were no” immediate plans.”

“There is an ongoing discussion with the hospitality sector more widely about what we can be doing to ensure that people are safe in those environments. But there's no immediate plan that I'm able to talk about because there is no immediate plan to introduce such requirements.”

The results of the Welsh Government’s review are expected to be announced this coming Thursday.