Mark Drakeford: No room for further relaxation of coronavirus rules

There is “no room” for further relaxation of coronavirus rules in Wales despite the success of the country’s firebreak lockdown, the First Minister has said.

Mark Drakeford warned it was “not universally the case” that people were sticking with regulations despite a reduction in the number of new cases.

The Welsh Labour leader told Friday’s Covid-19 press briefing for Wales that during the 17-day lockdown, which ended on November 9, police responded to more than 1,000 incidents related to people breaking Covid-19 rules.

Mr Drakeford said though most people had stuck to the rules, he continued to receive reports that “the behaviour of a selfish minority is putting everybody at risk”.

But he said the view of the country’s chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton’s was the firebreak had successfully reduced transmissions.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

Wales saw case numbers dropping over 10 consecutive days leading up to Friday, as well as signs of a slowdown in the number of people being admitted to hospital with the virus.

Mr Drakeford said the “mixed” news meant that while Wales would not follow England, Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland in tightening restrictions, current national measures would remain in place for the next fortnight.

He said: “There is no room for a further relaxation of those measures, and they will remain the same for the next two weeks.

“We need everyone, every single one of us, to play our part to make sure that we continue to build on the progress of the firebreak, and to keep coronavirus cases falling.”

Urging people to reduce contact with others and avoiding unnecessary travel, Mr Drakeford added: “If we do all this together, then we can have a path through to Christmas and will be hoping to see family and friends over that festive period.”

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show an estimated 18,400 people in private households had Covid-19 between November 8 and 14 – the equivalent of 0.61% of the population.

This is down from an estimated 35,300 people for the period October 31 to November 6, or 1.16% of the population.

The ONS said that its modelling suggests positivity rates in Wales “peaked around the end of October, with rates decreasing over the past two weeks”.

But because of the relatively small number of tests and low number of positives in its Wales sample, it said results should be interpreted with caution.

Mr Drakeford told the press briefing that the seven-day case incidence rate for Wales had fallen to around 160 cases per 100,000 people.

That ranged from just over 20 cases per 100,000 in Anglesey, North Wales, to more than 350 cases per 100,000 in Blaenau Gwent, South Wales, which now had the nation’s highest area for cases.

Merthyr Tydfil had seen the biggest drop in cases from its highest rate of around 770 cases per 100,000 to below 260 following the firebreak.

Mr Drakeford said further improvement was still needed in Merthyr, pointing to the mass asymptomatic testing pilot due to launch in the town on Saturday.

Earlier on Friday, the First Minister told BBC Breakfast that the evidence was “now good enough to say that the firebreak period did succeed”.

The decision to impose the lockdown was criticised by UK Government ministers before Boris Johnson announced England’s own month-long lockdown, which is due to end on December 2.

It comes as Northern Ireland announced its own firebreak-style lockdown, due to start next week.

He said: “The question is whether it has succeeded enough, and whether people in Wales are now behaving in ways that allow us to capitalise on the ground we’ve gained, rather than seeing it frittered away.”

Asked about the reproduction number, or R value, for Covid-19 in Wales, Mr Drakeford said: “Sage estimate that a week ago, the rate was somewhere between 0.9 and 1.2, so possibly already below 1 and since then we’ve had seven further consecutive days of numbers falling here in Wales.

“Our aim was to get it down to about 0.8, we’ll know in another week whether we succeeded in that but on the whole it’s looking promising.”

Mr Drakeford said discussions with UK Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and the other first ministers of the devolved administrations was planned for next week on a UK-wide approach to Christmas restrictions.

He said: “We agreed some broad parameters on Wednesday and remitted officials of all four administrations to work now on the detail, so I remain hopeful that it will be possible to reach a four-nation approach to Christmas.

“I certainly think that is the right thing to do – if it is achievable – and certainly Wales will be at the table next week looking to find an agreement.”

Mr Drakeford said an agreement on permitting travel across the UK during the Christmas season was “top of the list of things to agree”, even if a wider agreement was not possible.