First Minister, Mark Drakeford MS
The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 5) (Wales) Regulations 2020 require a review of the coronavirus measures to be undertaken every three weeks. The most recent three-week review was due to be completed by 24 March.
Overall case rates have risen sharply in recent weeks with 424.2 cases per 100,000 people as at 19 March, based on positive PCR tests. The latest ONS Coronavirus Infection Survey results also suggest cases are increasing. This is being driven by the BA.2 sub-type of the omicron variant.
The pandemic continues to cause pressure on the NHS, hospital figures have increased over the past week with more than 1,300 Covid-19 related patients in hospital as at 23 March. Thanks to the incredible efforts of our vaccination teams around the country this figure remains lower than in previous Covid waves.
Coronavirus is still prevalent across Wales – and the UK. Wales will remain at alert level zero. As set out in the ‘Together for a Safer Future’ published on 4 March Wales is still within the COVID Stable Scenario which allows us to make continue to relax some of the restrictions in place as these are no longer proportionate to the level of risk we face. However due to the increase pressure to the NHS we will be moving more cautiously than previously signalled.
From 28 March, we will be removing the requirement for face coverings to be worn in retail premises and on public transport. However, to protect those most vulnerable, there will still be a requirement for face coverings to be worn in Health and Social Care settings. We will continue to recommend face coverings are worn in our guidance.
Businesses and organisations will still be required to undertake specific coronavirus risk assessments and take reasonable measures to minimise risks. Employers will still be obligated by other laws, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, to keep staff and the public safe.
The requirement for people to self-isolate if they test positive will move from law to guidance. The £500 self-isolation payment to support people who need to self-isolate will continue to be available until June. Unvaccinated close contacts of those people testing positive will no longer be expected to self-isolate.
Regulations in respect of individuals involved in the organising of large unlicensed music events and legal requirements on election campaigners will also be removed on 28 March.
Guidance for schools will remain unchanged until the end of this term on 8 April.
Face coverings are still not routinely recommended in classrooms, but should be worn by staff, secondary aged learners and visitors when moving around indoor communal areas outside of the classroom. Schools who, based on their local context and advice need to operate at the ‘Very High’ risk level can continue to recommend that face coverings are used in classrooms by staff and secondary aged learners.
A decision will be made before the start of the next school term if any changes to the guidance is required.
The changes we have made to the regulations have followed careful consideration of the latest scientific and medical evidence and we are confident these find the right balance between the restrictions in place and the need to protect public health.
We have updated our guidance to reflect these changes and continue to encourage people to practice good health protection behaviours to help reduce the spread of Coronavirus and help keep Wales safe.
The pandemic is not over. This is why we are continuing to retain some important protections, including face coverings in health and care settings and specific coronavirus risk assessments and reasonable measures requirements in workplaces and premises open to the public.
With increasing numbers of people vaccinated and thanks to everyone’s continued efforts to behave responsibly in Wales, we can look forward to brighter times ahead.