Omicron Covid variant: Welsh Secretary backs decision to 'not bend rules' for Cardiff rugby players

The Welsh Secretary said the Cardiff Rugby situation showed both governments are working to manage the risk as carefully as possible Credit: PA

The UK Government’s Welsh secretary has backed the Welsh Government’s ‘no exemptions’ approach to the ongoing situation regarding Cardiff Rugby in South Africa

Players and staff are currently stuck in South Africa after the country was placed on the red travel list by the UK and Welsh Governments following the emergence of the Omicron variant.

With two players having tested positive for coronavirus, the squad will only be able to return to the UK if it is able to locate a quarantine hotel upon arrival in England.

It is understood that a flight has been found for Thursday, pending the results of further PCR tests on Wednesday.

Simon Hart told reporters that uncertainty around the Omicron variant meant that the rules could not be altered for individuals or groups. 

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart is far from impressed with the cooperation deal Credit: PA

He said: “There are thousands and thousands of other people, individuals in groups and on their own who are plunged into difficult circumstances when one of these things happens.”

Asked if the UK and Welsh Governments were on the same page when it came to that approach, Mr Hart said: “I think we are, yes.” 

“I think there's got to be an incredibly powerful reason why one person or one group of people should have a special exemption that others don't. “If that can be justified, then I suppose Welsh Government and ourselves could look at these things, but this is an unknown variant, still, very little is known about this. 

“The whole objective as far as our approach to Omicron is to try to slow down its arrival in the UK, to slow down its spread in the likely circumstances that it would be in the UK and to protect the progress that we've made with the overall challenge so far.

“So you know, no responsible government is going to cheerfully sort of bend the rules or even adjusted rules until we're absolutely certain we've managed to risk as carefully as we possibly can.”

In his regular media briefing, Mr Hart also said that he’s not aware of any formal request yet for military help with the booster rollout in Wales. 

Military personnel were previously involved in the first and second phases of vaccination in Wales and the UK Government says they will be involved in the booster programme. 

It’s almost certain that they’ll be deployed in Wales but a formal request has to be made from the Welsh Government to the Ministry of Defence in London.

Speaking to reporters, Simon Hart said: “We haven't been asked, at least it hasn't reached me if we had been asked, but I don't think we've been asked yet for reinforcements in that regard. 

“We have got quite a lot of military personnel deployed [in Wales] as ambulance drivers at the moment. And that's been extended… I think might have been extended yesterday actually.”

The Welsh Government said it is "urgently" expanding the vaccination programme in Wales, in line with the latest JCVI advice.

A spokesperson said: "This will involve increasing our vaccination workforce across various roles and we have asked all health boards in Wales to submit their plans to us as soon as possible.

“We will announce further details of how the booster programme will be expanded shortly.”

The Welsh Secretary wouldn’t comment on reports of pre-Christmas gatherings in Downing Street last year which have been claimed by some to have been in breach of Covid rules. 

Mr Hart said: “I am not aware of any such party. I wasn't invited and I definitely didn't go.”

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