Wales’ easing of coronavirus restrictions will depend on whether growing cases of the Indian variant leads to increased pressure on the NHS, Mark Drakeford has said.
The First Minister warned that preliminary evidence showed the variant, of which there are 97 cases in Wales, could be leading to greater levels of hospital admissions primarily among young, unvaccinated people.
Outdoor events with up to 10,000 people sitting – or 4,000 people standing – will be able to resume in Wales from Monday while groups of up to 30 people can meet outdoors and extended households can expand to include a third.
The partial move into alert level one will not include increasing the numbers of people able to meet indoors or attend indoor events due to the Welsh Government wanting more evidence about the effect of the variant.
The next set of eased restrictions are expected to come in following the June 21 review but Mr Drakeford told the PA news agency on Friday a decision on further relaxing rules would be dependent on the link between transmissions of the mutated Covid-19 strain and hospital admissions.
He said: “It’s not risk-free, that strategy, because that assumes that there will be greater circulation of the virus in the community and when you allow coronavirus to circulate the opportunities for new variants emerging increase as well.
“But if the link between falling ill and needing to be treated in hospital is broken, then it will mean that in the future we will have to find ways of living with coronavirus more like the way we live with the seasonal flu.”
Preliminary evidence showed the variant was causing greater hospital admissions among young people, he said, with the “considerable majority” of those unvaccinated but also including those who had received the vaccine.
“But if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, then beyond these three weeks we will be able to move forward further and to do more to continue to lift restrictions in Wales,” Mr Drakeford said.
The 97 cases of the Indian variant in the country include a cluster in Conwy, north west Wales.
More than 85% of the population has had one dose of the vaccine in Wales and 45% has had both, the Welsh Government said.