Cabinet meeting: 27 May and 3 June 2021
Minutes of a meeting (via Teams) of the Cabinet on 27 May and 3 June 2021.
A PDF download of this document will be available soon.
In this page
- Rt. Hon. Mark Drakeford MS
- Rebecca Evans MS
- Vaughan Gething MS
- Lesley Griffiths MS
- Jane Hutt MS
- Julie James MS
- Jeremy Miles MS
- Eluned Morgan MS
- Mick Antoniw MS
- Dawn Bowden MS
- Hannah Blythyn MS
- Julie Morgan MS
- Lynne Neagle MS
- Lee Waters MS
- Shan Morgan, Permanent Secretary (27 May)
- Will Whiteley, Deputy Director Cabinet Division
- Toby Mason, Head of Strategic Communications
- Jane Runeckles, Special Adviser
- Madeleine Brindley, Special Adviser
- Alex Bevan, Special Adviser
- Daniel Butler, Special Adviser
- Ian Butler, Special Adviser
- Kate Edmunds, Special Adviser
- Sara Faye, Special Adviser
- Clare Jenkins, Special Adviser
- Andrew Johnson, Special Adviser
- Mitch Theaker, Special Adviser
- Tom Woodward, Special Adviser
- Christopher W Morgan, Cabinet Secretariat (minutes, 27 May)
- Damian Roche, Cabinet Secretariat (minutes, 3 June)
- Tracey Burke, Director General, Education and Public Services
- Andrew Goodall, Director General, Health
- Andrew Slade, Director General ESNR
- Reg Kilpatrick, Director General, COVID-19 Crisis Coordination
- Frank Atherton, CMO (27 May)
- Chris Jones, Deputy CMO (3 June)
- Rob Orford, Chief Scientific Adviser for Health
- Fliss Bennee, Co-Chair TAC
- Dylan Hughes, First Legislative Counsel (27 May)
- Phil Elkin, Deputy Director Legal Services
- Tom Smithson, Deputy Director Restart
- Jason Thomas, Director, Culture Tourism and Sport (27 May)
- Rob Holt, Deputy Director Tourism and Major Events (3 June)
- Neil Buffin, Senior Lawyer
- Terry Kowal, Senior Legislative Counsel
Item 1: Review of Coronavirus Restrictions (No 5) Regulations – 3rd June 2021
1.1 The First Minister introduced the paper, which sought a steer from Cabinet on easements planned for the current review cycle, scheduled for 3rd June.
1.2 The restrictions relating to COVID-19 were for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence, spread of infection or contamination. There must be a threat to public health and the restrictions had to be proportionate in what they were intending to achieve. There was a requirement that the Welsh Government should review these restrictions every 3 weeks.
1.3 The First Minister invited the CMO to provide the latest advice in respect of the transmission of the virus. In general terms the overall situation remained favourable for continuing to ease the restrictions. The 7 day average was less than 10 in every 100,000 of population and the positivity rate was just below 1%.
1.4 There was still some concern surrounding the variant first identified in India, which was now known as the Delta variant (B.1.617.2), with 59 confirmed cases in Wales. Most of the clusters were in South Wales, but some recent cases in Conwy were being monitored. The situation in England was less favourable, with now over 4,500 cases being reported, with some very large clusters. However, the situation in Bolton was improving and it appeared that many of the cases were amongst people who had not been vaccinated or had only been partially vaccinated.
1.5 It was acknowledged that the 2 most important risks was from the recommencement of non-essential international travel and the early lifting of non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as social distancing and the wearing of face coverings. In terms of the vaccination programme, the adult population of Wales was expected to have been offered both doses by mid-July.
1.6 The Chief Executive of the NHS reported that there were currently 179 people occupying hospital beds with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, with only 8 confirmed cases. 3 of these were in critical care beds. Overall occupancy was 95% lower than the peak, with a 99% reduction in those in critical care beds. The NHS was focusing on the recovery of normal services and dealing with the usual emerging pressures rather than those COVID-19 related.
1.7 Cabinet had previously signalled that, should the public health improvements continue, it would be possible to consider moving to Alert Level 1 from 7th June, should conditions remain favourable at that time. This would entail changing the rules on meeting indoors in private dwellings, amending social distancing guidance in private homes and outdoors applying the maximum limit of 30 people meeting to all outdoor areas, including gardens.
1.8 Given the low rates and stable position in Wales, there was arguably more time to respond, should evidence emerge of any relaxations causing negative effects in Wales or elsewhere in the UK. There was also the need to consider the increasing economic and social costs of maintaining restrictions, particularly on those with lower wage levels, younger people and those with low skills. There was also the impact on disabled people, those with poor health and the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.
1.9 There was also the potential loss of major events permanently to other countries. It was therefore recommended that, subject to conditions remaining stable over the next week and that additional evidence on the Delta variant did not change the assessment of risk, there should be a move to Alert Level 1 on 7th June.
1.10 Cabinet acknowledged there was a need to continue with the cautious and gradual steps, ever mindful of the cumulative impact of future events, and agreed with the recommendation. However, it was agreed that they would need to meet again the following Thursday to confirm this position, when further evidence on the spread and impact of the Delta variant was known.
1.11 In the meantime, officials would need to revisit the alert levels within the Coronavirus Control Plan to ensure that they were fit for purpose now that the Delta variant was becoming the most dominant strain. Officials would also need to provide advice about the respective public health risk associated with each of the proposed easements under Alert Level 1 so that ministers may make informed decisions next Thursday should there be a need to consider a partial lifting of restrictions.
1.12 It was suggested that some thought should be given to vaccinating children and young people given the number of cases of the Delta variant within this age group in England.
1.13 Cabinet discussed the proposals for limiting the number of people at events and concluded that the Welsh Government should follow the model in England of indoor seated of up to 1,000, outdoor standing of up to 4,000 and outdoor seated of up to 10,000. The pilots had demonstrated what could be achieved safely.
1.14 The model provided a ceiling for capacity limits, and organisers would be required to adhere to the other rules in the regulations such as social distancing, risk assessments and the restrictions on hospitality, which would have an overall impact on the actual number of people that could attend an event. Local authorities could focus on enforcing the restrictions rather than planning events, as they did during the pilots.
1.15 It was recognised that ministers may need to revisit this decision, should the UK government make any changes to the social distancing requirements.
1.16 In terms of gatherings and mingling, the rules were impractical to enforce for non-seated events when moving around, therefore, indoor standing events would not be allowed at Alert Level 1, given the higher risks associated with indoor activities. However, given enforcement issues, there would be no mingling rules in outdoor standing or ambulatory events. However, there was a need for clarity with the guidance so the public understood the risks.
1.17 Potential changes to rules around wedding receptions would be discussed further as part of the approach for the next review, including the potential for removing caps on numbers and considering the overall approach to social distancing. Officials were asked to provide further advice on wedding reception easements for the next meeting.
1.18 Cabinet agreed that bingo halls should not be exempt from the table service requirement set out at Alert Level 1.
1.19 It was reported that guidance in force at alert levels 3 and 4 would need to be reconsidered at alert levels 1 and 2, as some restrictions might not be proportionate at the lower levels. It was agreed that, unless changes were particularly contentious or required alterations to regulations, then the guidance should be reviewed by policy departments, legal and public health officials for proportionality and those changes cleared by relevant portfolio ministers.
1.20 It was reported that there was now a high risk of challenge to the regulations preventing evictions from those landlords who had tenancies in arrears. Due to the easing of broader coronavirus restrictions and the requirement to maintain proportionality, this was now considered a significant risk, particularly as Wales was the last UK nation to remove such restrictions.
1.21 It was suggested that removing the restrictions should be accompanied by appropriate messaging about how the Welsh Government continued to provide support and assistance to those who might be in rent arrears due to the pandemic.
1.22 It was noted that the regulations were due to expire at the end of June and a decision to end the temporary restrictions could be delayed slightly beyond the next review period, to align with the availability of a suitable grant package that could help mitigate the number of evictions that might follow. Officials should consider this further and Cabinet would return to this issue at the next meeting.
Item 2: Options for a phased move to Alert Level 1
2.1 The Deputy Chief Medical Officer reported that the situation in Wales remained one of low disease prevalence, with infection rates stable at approximately 7.4 per 100k. COVID-19 pressure on the NHS was low, but a significant non-COVID backlog was being dealt with and any increase in COVID patients could impact how the backlog was managed.
2.2 Case rates had been growing exponentially in Scotland for around 3 weeks and in England for more than a week. Northern Ireland and Wales had seen stable case rates over the same time, but this may change as more community transmission took place with the easing of restrictions. The Delta variant was a particular concern, particularly in Conwy, but TTP appeared to be containing outbreaks in Wales to date.
2.3 A further rise in cases across Wales could be expected as the Delta variant spread across the UK and early signs showed the existing combination of vaccinations and restrictions may not be sufficient to keep Rt below 1 in England or Scotland. A meeting of SAGE would follow immediately after Cabinet and further evidence would then be available on the likely impact of the Delta variant in Wales.
2.4 Taking the above into account, the public health advice was for the move to Alert Level 1 to be staggered to delay the most risky relaxations, including those relating to indoor mixing and events. Delaying some easements in this way should provide enough data to indicate whether the UK had entered a third wave and the degree to which increased cases translated into hospitalisations and deaths.
2.5 The proposal was for a two-stage move to Alert Level 1 beginning on 7 June, with mostly outdoor changes. The second stage would include the indoor elements of Alert Level 1 two weeks later on 21 June.
2.6 Cabinet agreed that households could be extended from 7 June, with up to 3 households and a support bubble, which was the only indoor easement from this date.
2.7 The discussion then focused on the options set out in relation to outdoor unregulated and regulated gatherings. The first option was to align with rules in England, the second was to adopt a multiplier approach according to an approximate calculation of the relative risk.
2.8 In relation to outdoor unregulated gatherings, concerns were raised about the potential for confusion if Wales were to move away from the numbers in place the previous summer in Wales, and which England would be applying, which was 30 people who could meet in private gardens, outdoors in regulated settings, and in public spaces.
2.9 For outdoor regulated gatherings, such as sporting events, wedding receptions and spectator events, Cabinet agreed that justifying a move away from the levels set in England would be problematic and would not necessarily drive the right compliance behaviour, as people may feel that variation was being imposed unnecessarily. That view was supported by the focus group data in the weekly monitor.
2.10 It was reported the police were comfortable with the suggested number of 30 at outdoor gatherings and local authorities would also support them.
2.11 Noting the continued uncertainty around the impact of the Delta variant, ministers agreed to split the move to Alert Level 1 into 2 stages and agreed that maximum capacities should be set at 30 people for outdoor gatherings, 4,000 for standing events and 10,000 for seated events.
2.12 Cabinet noted the proposed changes for 21 June would be signalled at the press conference the following day, but there was a further opportunity to consider them in light of the public health situation during the week of 14 June, before a final decision was taken on the easements.
2.13 The final decision to be taken that day was in relation to removing the current restriction on evictions.
2.14 It was reported the regulations currently preventing evictions were due to expire on 30 June and a package of measures to support tenants at risk of such proceedings was being worked up.
2.15 Cabinet noted that advice services across Wales were working together with the Welsh Government to formulate the package and would assist in communicating it to those in need.
2.16 Given the package was unlikely to be ready for implementation prior to the end of June, Cabinet agreed the regulations should be allowed to expire at month end.
2.17 In reaching that conclusion Cabinet noted the risk of judicial review by landlords was assessed as being low to medium, as the sector and tenants had already been made aware the regulations were due to expire on 30 June. In addition, any scheme to assist those in rent arrears should ultimately benefit landlords.
2.18 The significant additional cost associated with tackling homelessness was also a factor in seeking to keep tenants in their properties whenever possible, and it was suggested the Welsh Government’s successful work in combatting homelessness throughout the pandemic could be emphasised at the press conference the following day.