Omicron variant: What could the UK Covid Alert Level 4 mean for Wales?

The UK Alert Level rise does not automatically mean a return of restrictions in Wales Credit: PA

On Sunday (December 12), the UK Covid alert level was raised to Level 4, up from Level 3, following the rapid increase in the number of Omicron cases being recorded across the UK.

While health is devolved to Wales and most decisions related to coronavirus are made by the Welsh Government, the UK-wide alert level is a recommendation made by the chief medical officers of Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

There are five coronavirus alert levels in the UK, with Level 5 being the most severe. 

Level 4 is described as “Transmission is high or rising exponentially” with “social distancing continues” the recommended measures.

A change in the levels does not automatically mean a change to restrictions, as the alert level system is separate and independent from any government decisions.

UK Coronavirus Alert Levels

What the Welsh Government has said since the Alert Level rise

The Welsh Government has moved to a weekly review cycle Credit: PA

Much of what UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in a televised address on Sunday (December 13) only applies to England.

However, shortly after the prime minister’s address, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford released a statement in which he said “further steps” could be required to keep the country safe as he encouraged people to “make having your booster a priority”, amid a pledge to quicken the rollout.

Mr Drakeford said: “We are learning more about the Omicron variant every day.

“This is a fast-moving form of coronavirus, which has the potential to cause a large wave of infections in Wales. This could lead to large numbers of people needing hospital treatment at a time when our NHS is under significant pressure.

“We are doing everything we can to accelerate our vaccination programme to increase the number of people who will receive their booster in the coming days and weeks. Older people and those at greatest risk are being prioritised at the moment. 

“We are increasing the number of clinics and their opening hours; we have asked all available staff to join vaccination teams to support this national effort.

“Please make having your booster a priority. It will be one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself against coronavirus and this new variant.

“The Cabinet is closely monitoring this rapidly changing public health situation and has moved to a weekly review cycle.

“We are facing a very serious situation and we may need to take further steps to keep Wales safe. I will continue to keep Wales updated.”

New restrictions ‘likely’ in the next few weeks

The First Minister did not introduce any new restrictions in the latest Welsh Government coronavirus review on Friday (December 10). 

However, he did announce that the reviews would now become weekly, as opposed to every three weeks.

That opens the door for further restrictions or public health measures to be announced from Friday, December 17, if the Government feels they are necessary.

On Sunday (December 12), Wales’ health minister Eluned Morgan said new restrictions are likely "in the next few weeks" in Wales in order to deal with the new Omicron variant.

Ms Morgan said the Welsh Government wanted "to act proportionately", but a spike in cases of the Omicron variant was expected "quickly".

Across the UK, the vaccine booster programme is being pushed as the key weapon against Omicron re-infection.

The UK Government has set a target of offering a vaccine booster to all adults by the New Year, while Wales’ target was announced for the end of January last week.

Although the UK alert level is set to four, Wales is currently at Alert Level Zero under its own alert scheme. However, if the Welsh Government was to introduce further restrictions, its Alert Level 1 would likely be a starting point.

Omicron: The current situation in Wales

As of Sunday, the UK had recorded a further 1,239 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, bringing the total number of cases to 3,137, a 65% increase from Saturday’s total of 1,898.

The UK Government said the actual number was likely to be ten times as high.

On Monday (December 13), Eluned Morgan confirmed there was one known case of Omicron in hospital in Wales, however, she said she expected that to change "very quickly".

The minister said her fear was that if hundreds of thousands of people contract the virus, the number of people of people having to take time off work would put further pressures on public services at a time when the NHS is already stretched to its limit.