Covid: New restrictions in Wales likely within weeks

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A man is vaccinated at the Cardiff Bay mass vaccination centreImage source, Getty Images
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Ministers have repeated their calls for people to get the booster jab

New restrictions are likely "in the next few weeks" in Wales to deal with the new Omicron variant, the health minister has said.

Eluned Morgan said the Welsh government wanted "to act proportionately", but a spike in cases of the variant was expected "quickly."

It comes as First Minister Mark Drakeford warned Omicron could lead to "large numbers" of people in hospital.

The Welsh Tories want vaccine boosters ramped up "to a war-like footing".

Mr Drakeford said: "This is a fast-moving form of coronavirus, which has the potential to cause a large wave of infections in Wales.

"This could lead to large numbers of people needing hospital treatment at a time when our NHS is under significant pressure."

He said people's "best defence" continued to be vaccination, adding: "Emerging evidence shows the booster dose is vital."

Mr Drakeford said older people and those at greatest risk were being prioritised for booster vaccines, with more clinics opening and with longer opening hours.

"Please make having your booster a priority, he added.

"It will be one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself against coronavirus and this new variant."

The first minister said the cabinet was monitoring the "rapidly-changing public health situation", adding he may "need to take further steps to keep Wales safe".

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an "Omicron emergency" and said booster jabs would be offered to everyone over 18 in England from this week.

In Scotland, boosters will be offered to over-30s from Monday and then over-18s later in the week.

Booster jabs are being made available at walk-in centres for those aged 30 and above and those who had their last dose more than three months ago in Northern Ireland.

Mr Drakeford has pledged to offer boosters to every adult by the end of January, with older people and those most at risk being prioritised.

Image source, Getty Images
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Eluned Morgan: "The last thing we want to do is to impose the kind of restrictions that we saw last Christmas"

On Sunday evening, the chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said they were recommending the coronavirus alert level is raised from level three to level four, which signifies Covid is spreading fast.

Risk levels are measured by a five-level, colour-coded alert system. Level four means a high or rising level of transmission.

Speaking on BBC Politics Wales, Ms Morgan said, with 15 Omicron cases currently identified in Wales, she expected the number to "change very quickly in a very short space of time".

"We are still learning about this new variant," she added.

Wales' coronavirus rules are now being reviewed weekly instead of every three weeks in response to the new variant.

On Saturday, officials at Cardiff and Vale health board "strongly discouraged" going to Christmas parties in light of the variant and "increasing pressures".

Meanwhile, the Welsh government has urged people to take a lateral flow test before going out.

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People "need to turn up when they are asked" to have their booster jab, said Eluned Morgan

Asked whether that advice might change in light of the call from NHS bosses, Ms Morgan said: "I think there will come a point where that may be likely to happen.

"The last thing we want to do is to impose the kind of restrictions that we saw last Christmas unless we absolutely have to.

"We know that last Christmas was really disappointing for so many people. That's not where we want to be.

"But we will always act in the best interests of the people of Wales."

Earlier in the week, she warned that the current modelling suggest a wave of Omicron cases "will reach its peak by around the end of January".

Asked if stricter restrictions like closing businesses would be possible without UK government financial support, Ms Morgan said: "It will be much more difficult unless we're given the kind of cover that we were given economically by the UK government last time in terms of furlough."

Meanwhile, analysis by the UK Health Security Agency has showed a dramatic drop in effectiveness for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and a significant drop-off for two doses of Pfizer against Omicron.

But a third booster vaccine dose was analysed to prevent about 75% of people from getting any Covid symptoms.

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Booster jabs were offered to people in Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, over the weekend

The Welsh government has previously said all adults in Wales will be offered a booster vaccine by the end of January.

"We are slightly concerned about people actually not prioritising the booster vaccination," said Ms Morgan.

"They need to turn up when they are asked."

Plaid Cymru's health spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth said: "I don't think anybody wants to bring in more regulation but we have learnt, haven't we, that the earlier you act the better it is.

"But, certainly, there are things that we need to see being done with even more determination.

"Getting that booster programme out even quicker, acting on things like air filtration, fresh air, in schools, in particular, and other public places."

Welsh Conservative health spokesman Russell George said the party has been "demanding walk-in centres for months to improve take-up rates".

"We know vaccinations are the key to a society living with coronavirus and free from restrictions," he added.

"These are beginning to materialise but, again, we need to see more urgency.

"It's important that ministers get evidence to justify any restrictions rather than use the absence of evidence, such as on vaccine passports, to make decisions."

How many people have died with Covid in Wales?

Five more people have died with Covid, bringing the number to 6,481 since the start of the pandemic, according to Public Health Wales.

An additional 2,591 positive cases were reported on Sunday, bringing the total to 534,893.

The latest data covers the 24-hour period to 09:00 GMT on Friday.