Mark Drakeford MS, First Minister
Throughout the course of the pandemic, a clear and consistent pattern in the spread of coronavirus along travel corridors has emerged. This is true within Wales; across the UK and internationally. The virus moves with people, and people bring the virus into new areas as they move around.
Analysis of the different variants of the virus in the UK has indicated the majority were first observed in England. Cases in Wales often appeared a few days later.
The Kent variant – the dominant form of the virus in the UK – very quickly spread across the whole of the UK, even though there were high levels of restrictions in place, including travel restrictions, during November and December.
A new variant has been identified, which appears to be even more transmissible than the Kent variant. First identified in India, it is likely to become the dominant variant in the UK, in the same way as the Kent variant did. Cases have been identified in many areas across the UK – particularly in Bolton, Blackburn, Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside. We have also recorded 57 cases of the India variant of concern in Wales.
There is still much we do not know about this new variant. We do not know enough to say whether it could lead to more people becoming seriously ill or dying. The emerging evidence suggests that vaccination is still effective, especially in terms of protecting against severe disease.
With each week that passes, our fantastic vaccination programme continues to protect more people. I would encourage everyone who is offered the vaccine to take up the invitation.
At the moment, we are not seeing any increases in admissions to hospitals linked to the India variant in Wales. We are closely monitoring the situation in England, especially the areas with a high prevalence of the variant of concern, which will provide us with an early warning.
The UK Government’s guidance for people living in the eight areas where the India variant of concern is circulating advises against non-essential travel and for regular testing.
We are not introducing any legal restrictions on travel within the UK at this point but it is our clear advice that people should not travel to areas with high prevalence of coronavirus if they can avoid it. This includes Bolton, Blackburn, Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside where the India variant of concern is circulating. There is an increased risk of contracting Covid-19, even if vaccinated, in those areas so you should avoid travelling to these areas if possible.
As we approach the late Spring bank holiday and the half-term break, our tourism businesses will be looking forward to a busy week and the start of the summer season.
We would urge anyone planning a break in Wales from an area with higher rates of coronavirus, to test themselves twice weekly, using the free Covid-19 lateral flow tests, before they travel. Only those who have a negative test result and no symptoms of coronavirus should travel.
Everyone coming to Wales from areas with a higher prevalence of coronavirus should bring lateral flow testing kits with them to continue regular testing while on holiday – this is an additional measure to help keep Wales safe. Lateral flow testing kits are also available in Wales from local collection points.
We have always been clear about the risks of a third wave, driven by new variants of concern emerging. We will take a cautious approach to relaxing the restrictions and will continue to be guided by the latest available scientific advice. We will flex our highly effective Test Trace Protect and vaccination programmes where necessary. We are retaining surge capacity in our NHS in case it is needed. And we continue to work closely with local partners on controlling and containing local outbreaks.
Our best route out of this pandemic remains our impressive vaccination programme. I urge everyone to continue adopting the same caution and protective behaviours we have done throughout this pandemic while we continue to vaccinate the remainder of the eligible population in Wales.