Covid: 'Too early to say' if Wales will see another lockdown amid concerns over Omicron variant

  • People of Wales urged to be 'cautious' over Christmas period

It's "too early to say" if Wales will see another lockdown or so-called 'fire-break' amid concerns over the new variant of coronavirus known as Omicron, the health minister has said.

During a press conference, Eluned Morgan was asked by ITV Wales' Adrian Masters if the Welsh Government was considering "very restrictive" measures in the weeks ahead.

The political editor asked: "Are you considering measures that we would call lockdown, or fire-break, or circuit-break, or any of those terms that have been used - those kinds of very restrictive measures? Could you say whether, specifically, those things are on the table?"

The minister replied: "I think it's too early to say what we're going to decide in the next few weeks, because literally we've had days to assess the situation.

"We have a responsibility to keep our society open as long as possible. But obviously, if the situation changes, we will have to change along with that."

The new variant of coronavirus caused concern in the run-up to Christmas. Credit: PA Images

Ms Morgan said moves to tighten restrictions on international travel and to expand the vaccine programme were "precautionary" to slow the spread of the new variant for as long as possible.

She said: "This is clearly a very worrying time for us all.

"We had hoped by now to be able to think about a future not overshadowed by the pandemic. But we now face the uncertainty about a new variant of coronavirus just before Christmas.

"There is still a lot we don’t know about this variant. We won’t know the answers until more research has been done.

"There's never been a more important time to work together to protect our families and loved ones.

"It's too early to say yet what the situation is likely to be as we enter the Christmas period, but I would urge people to act with caution over the Christmas period. And to take seriously the situation, and the threat, of mixing with other people indoors during this time."

The health minister said the emergence of the new variant is "another serious development" in the pandemic and "one we are taking seriously".

There are currently no reported cases in Wales, but we should be prepared to see cases identified, she added.

There have been 14 confirmed cases in the UK, but more are under investigation.

Ms Morgan added: "We are still encouraging people to work from home. We are encouraging people to wear face coverings in public places. And we would urge people to comply with those laws.

"We're not doing this for fun. We're doing it to keep you safe. And it's really important that people understand the responsibilities not just to themselves, but to their fellow human beings in Wales."

Dr Gill Richardson, deputy chief medical officer for vaccines, was present alongside the health minister at the press conference.

When asked if UK leaders were being "over-cautious", she replied: "I think that we are not alone in being precautionary.

We know that other countries from as far apart as Israel to Australia, European countries and others have also taken these actions. You'll have heard about Switzerland this morning.

"So we are being precautionary, because the science on this new variant will not be fully known for several weeks."

Responding to the Welsh Government press conference, Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said: “As we head into what will already be one of the most difficult winters the NHS has faced, the emergence of the Omicron variant serves as a sobering reminder that this pandemic is not yet over.

“Whilst we welcome the JCVI's advice to extend those eligible for a booster jab to all adults (and second doses for 12–15-year-olds), this significant expansion will add complexity and workload to an already challenging vaccination programme.

“The booster vaccine will offer people significant extra protection against Covid-19 and NHS leaders and staff are working at speed to put plans in place to increase capacity and mobilise the workforce.

“It's vital we do all we can to help reduce the spread of coronavirus by regularly testing ourselves, wearing masks in enclosed spaces, keeping our distance where possible and keeping indoor spaces well ventilated.

“With all eyes on the emerging picture, we must remember the existing pressures on the system have not gone away and health and care staff are still working relentlessly to tackle demand in other areas. We urge the public to come forward to receive their vaccine when invited.”

People are being urged to get their Covid booster jabs as soon as they're eligible. Credit: PA Images

What new action has been taken so far?

  • Ten South African countries have been placed on the red list for international travel. This means anyone travelling back to Wales from these countries will have to complete 10 days of quarantine, in a managed quarantine hotel - with no exceptions.

  •  Vaccinated travellers coming back to the UK from a non-red list country will have to self-isolate and take a PCR test on day two of their return. They can leave isolation if they have a negative result. If the test is positive, they will need to isolate for 10 days. People they live with will also need to isolate until they have a negative test.

  • The rules for unvaccinated travellers are not changing – they must self-isolate for 10 days and take a PCR test on day two and day eight.

  • All staff and learners in secondary schools, colleges and universities should wear face coverings while indoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

  • Everyone identified as a close contact of a confirmed or a probable Omicron case in Wales will need to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status or age.

What measures already exist?

  • Getting vaccinated.

  • Isolating and getting tested if you have symptoms.

  • Taking regular lateral flow tests – especially before you go out to busy places.

  • Meeting people outdoors where possible.

  • Keeping your distance where possible.

  • Washing your hands regularly.

  • Wearing a face covering.

Watch Tuesday's Welsh Government press conference in full here: