Wales pauses relaxing of some restrictions due to Indian variant

Wales has held back relaxing restrictions on allowing small events and meeting people due to concerns about the Indian variant of coronavirus, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

Mr Drakeford said there were 17 cases of the variant in Wales as of Thursday, with a concentration in north-west England causing concern due to its proximity and link with the Welsh north-east.

Wales will move to alert level two on Monday with the reopening of indoor hospitality and entertainment venues, but Mr Drakeford said his Government would pause further easements if “the risks in doing so would be too great”.

On Friday, Mr Drakeford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We were considering a small number of further easements from Monday but have decided to hold back on those until we get the advice from Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) who met yesterday, our own scientific advice which we’ll receive imminently, just to make sure that we are continuing to take a precautionary approach in case the Indian variant is on the march, and therefore Wales would be vulnerable to it as well.”

Asked if he would be prepared to delay further steps in his road map if advice from Sage suggests it is necessary, Mr Drakeford said: “Yes, we would. We tried our best to follow the scientific advice at every step and if the advice were to be that we should hold back on some further easements because the risks in doing so would be too great then certainly that is what we would do.”

Mr Drakeford told Sky News ministers had thought about “moving ahead with the reopening of smaller events” as well as “liberalising the rules in the way in which people can meet together, not just in their extended household but beyond that”, with both now on hold.

Mark Drakeford
Mark Drakeford (Matthew Horwood/PA)

“If the advice on the Indian variant is that it is safe to move ahead, we won’t need to wait for the end of our next three-week cycle to do those things, but the Indian variant is giving us cause for concern,” he said.

“We don’t know enough about whether it is more transmissible than the Kent variant, we don’t know enough about whether the vaccination programme is as effective in dealing with it as it is with other variants we have in Wales, and until we’re a bit clearer on that I think it is sensible to take a precautionary approach.”