Sporting events to be played behind closed doors in Wales as Omicron cases rise

From Boxing Day onwards, sporting events in Wales will be played behind closed doors in an attempt to control the new Omicron variant.

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething announced the new measures as figures showed a further rise in the number of confirmed cases of the fast-moving variant in Wales. 

The new measures will apply to indoor and outdoor sporting events. 

The Economy Minister has also confirmed a £3m Spectator Sports Fund will be available to support clubs and sporting venues affected by the latest measures.

Further details will be released following discussions with the sector. 

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething announced the measures as latest figures show a further rise in the number of confirmed Omicron cases. Credit: (Ben Birchall/PA)

The latest measures will come into effect the day before nightclubs close and two metre-social distancing rules become mandatory in offices in Wales on December 27, as the devolved nations set their own Covid rules to tackle soaring Covid cases.

In England and Scotland, face coverings are mandatory in indoor public places and on public transport, people must show Covid passes to gain entry to nightclubs and large events, and those who can work from home are urged to stay away from their workplace.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday evening that no new restrictions will be imposed in England for now but the government 'reserves the possibility to take further action', while First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scots won't face fresh rules on Christmas Day gatherings.

Northern Ireland is also set to consider new restrictions this week including mandatory Covid passes to enter large events, but current advice states no more than 30 people should attend indoor gatherings, working from home is advised.

Referring to the new coronavirus measures in Wales, the Economy Minister Mr Gething said: “Sporting events over the Christmas period are one of the big highlights of the year. Unfortunately, the new Omicron variant is a significant development in the pandemic and could cause a large number of infections.

“We need to do everything we can to protect people’s health and control the spread of this awful virus.”

He added: “Throughout the pandemic we have followed scientific and public health advice to keep people safe. The advice is clear – we need to act now in response to the threat of omicron. We are giving people as much notice of these decisions as we can.

“Crowds will come back as soon as possible. We want everyone to be here to enjoy their favourite sports.”

Some football clubs have already postponed Christmas matches due to Covid-19 cases within their squads. 

Cardiff City FC has postponed its Boxing Day match against Coventry City due to several cases of Covid-19 in its playing squad and staff. And League Two leaders Forest Green will not be playing Newport County.

In response, the Welsh Conservatives criticised what they called a "poorly timed" announcement and said the Government had to provide support to those businesses likely to be affected.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said: "This is a fast moving and difficult situation for decision-makers, but this is no way to do things. 

"The drip, drip effect of the rumour mill is unhelpful and unsettling to many, particularly at such an important time of year for families across the country. 

"The last review by Labour was only on Friday and families, workers, businesses and organisations deserve clear communication from governments of all colours ahead of the Christmas and New Year period - not poorly timed releases that sets social media racing.

"Welsh Conservatives remain of the belief that the imposition of restrictions must be based on the strongest possible data, and as a last resort to protect the NHS. 

"Any businesses and sporting organisations hit by these new restrictions must receive full financial support from Labour ministers to cover any losses."

Andrew RT Davies criticised what he felt was a "poorly timed" announcement by the Welsh Government Credit: PA Images

Plaid Cymru welcomed the financial support offered by the Welsh Government but insisted it should keep the regulations under constant review.

Heledd Fychan MS, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for sport, said: "Our sports thrive with public support, and it's a cruel twist that so coronavirus thrives in crowds as well.

"I welcome the financial support on offer to sporting venues and clubs as they once again are forced to operate behind closed doors.

"It's really important we support sports clubs, particularly at the grassroots level, as the wellbeing benefits of coming together in support of a team is too important to risk losing.

"This will be a particular blow for the community events that will have been arranged for the holiday period. I urge the Welsh Government to keep this under regular review, particularly for events that take part in the open air."

Latest figures show Omicron cases are rising quickly in all parts of Wales. 

The overall rate of coronavirus infections is also rising in Wales and now stands at just under 550 cases per 100,000 people.

The coronavirus regulations, including playing sports behind closed doors, will be reviewed regularly.

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