Covid: Closing Wales nightclubs defended by Mark Drakeford as legal action considered

Mark Drakeford has said there is a "hierarchy of risk"

First Minister Mark Drakeford has not ruled out adding more coronavirus restrictions after Christmas, as he said there “won’t be any parties at nightclubs on New Year’s Eve”.

He announced new legal measures that will come into force on December 27, to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Mr Drakeford urged people to downsize their festive plans, saying his own celebrations would be “modest”.

He defended the decision to impose closures on nightclubs, while other venues such as pubs and restaurants stay open, by saying there is a "hierarchy of risk".

Speaking at a press conference today (17 December), Mr Drakeford said: "We are focussing on a context where we thing the risks are greatest. People go to nightclubs to be up close and personal - it's the reason for the venue and we know from other parts of the world that such venues have led to super-spreader events.

First Minister Mark Drakeford has issued new guidance on socialising in the run up to Christmas. Credit: PA

"They were the last places to reopen when we were reopening the economy because they are the riskiest and as we step back into more risky territory I don't think it can be a surprise that they are the first that we have to ask to close again.

"I think you can distinguish between the reasons people go to a restaurant and the reasons people go to a nightclub. Of course it is not because those settings are guaranteed to be free of coronavirus but it is a hierarchy of risk - you start with the most risky contexts and then see if you need to do more.

The rules to be introduced in 10 days are taken from the country’s Alert level 2, and include bringing back social distancing, barriers and one-way systems in businesses.

The Welsh Government said the plan currently does not include restrictions on private households.

But Mr Drakeford said restricting the number of households allowed to meet remains a possibility, and hinted at the prospect of further restrictions in hospitality settings after Christmas, such as the “rule of six”.

“I’m hopeful that hospitality will reopen after Christmas and we’ll be working with the sector to think about the terms on which it will reopen,” Mr Drakeford said.

“People are already voting with their feet and cancelling arrangements because they are anxious about Omicron.

“It may be that when hospitality reopens we may need to put some extra protections in place so that people feel confident when they go out to a pub or a restaurant, then everything is being done to make sure they are safe.”

However, he confirmed: “There won’t be any parties at nightclubs on New Year’s Eve.”

Mr Drakeford said he would make an announcement on Monday about whether changes would be needed to allow large sporting events, such as Boxing Day rugby derbies, football matches and the Welsh Grand National in Chepstow, to go ahead.

Nightclubs will not be allowed to open on New Year's Eve in Wales, it has been announced. Credit: Andrew Parsons/PA Archive/PA Images

A £60 million support package for businesses affected by the new restrictions has also been announced, with more detail still to come on how funds can be claimed.

Mr Drakeford said that, using systems already in place, he hoped to get money out to people “as quickly as possible”.

But The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) said it is "astounded" at the "consistent targeting of the nightclub and late night economy sector".

CEO of NTIA, Michael Kill, said: "It is very clear that the Welsh Government has purposefully placed restrictions on an industry with no supporting evidence.

'The sector will be considering its legal options'

"Nightclubs and the late night economy have been at the sharpest end of the pandemic, and have upheld the Public Heath Strategy within Wales for over two years, with closures and mounting debts.

"We have been placed in an untenable position and will now have no choice but to come out fighting.

"The sector will be considering its legal options following this announcement."

Part of the guidance issued on Friday is to have a smaller Christmas.

“A smaller Christmas will definitely be a safer Christmas,” Mr Drakeford said.

“Ours will be a modest Christmas. We’ll be staying at home.

“What we’re doing is spacing out seeing people over the Christmas weekend. Because that’s another thing people can do. You can still see the people you want to see, but don’t see them all at the same time.”

Other advice includes getting a booster jab, taking a lateral flow test before going to meet people, meeting outdoors where possible and taking steps such as social distancing, washing hands and mask-wearing.

“A smaller Christmas will definitely be a safer Christmas," the FM said. Credit: David Davies/PA

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies MS has said he is thankful for the clarity the government’s announcement has given families for Christmas but said the closure of venues such as nightclubs proves that the Covid pass scheme has failed.

Mr Davies said: “The First Minister’s decision to tighten in some areas after the festive period, and close venues such as nightclubs, is an admission that restrictions such as vaccine passports have failed and were never going to work in Wales.

“This is having a wide-ranging impact on Welsh firms in various sectors and the Labour government must now use the hundreds of millions of pounds left over in Covid support funding to help businesses and protect jobs.”