Nightclubs in Wales can finally reopen today as Mark Drakeford’s administration scraps a raft of damaging Covid restrictions including social distancing, the rule-of-six and compulsory WFH.
Tough curbs dramatically imposed on Boxing Day to tackle Omicron are being axed as the current virus wave subsides.
But the controversial Covid passes will still be needed for entry to cinemas, theatres and concert halls, and larger outdoor events attended by more than 4,000 people if unseated, or 10,000 people when seated.
Though WFH is no longer compulsory, the Welsh Government is insisting that businesses implement remote working.
Masks in shops, public transport, schools and hospitals will also stay in force until at least January 28, and possibly February half-term. And everyone must also continue to self-isolate if they test positive for Covid.
Announcing the changes, the First Minister warned that ‘the pandemic is not over’ and urged people to ‘continue taking steps to stay safe’.
Welsh ministers have given no indication of when remaining Covid laws could come to an end, though chief medical officer Sir Frank Atherton has hinted officials may look at ending mass testing in the summer.
Mr Drakeford’s critics have questioned whether it was necessary to impose economically crippling restrictions.
Scientists have pointed out that both Wales and Scotland rushed to impose tougher Covid curbs than England this winter, but that there was not a ‘huge amount of difference’ in the cumulative death rates among the nations.
Wales has the highest rate of Covid fatalities (291.4 death certificates per every 100,000 people have mentioned the virus), just above England (262.3), Scotland (229.2) and Northern Ireland (213.2).
A man wearing a Wales face mask on Queen Street in Cardiff on December 29, 2021
Nightclubs in Wales can reopen, and social distancing, the rule-of-six and compulsory WFH have been scrapped. But Covid passes will still be needed for entry to cinemas, theatres and concert halls, and larger outdoor events attended by more than 4,000 people if unseated, or 10,000 people when seated. Though WFH is no longer compulsory, the Welsh Government is insisting that businesses implement remote working. Masks in shops, public transport, schools and hospitals will also stay in force until at least January 28, and possibly February half-term. And everyone must also continue to self-isolate if they test positive for Covid
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, who has confirmed nightclubs are to reopen and social distancing along with rule-of-six requirements will end in Wales
Two shoppers walk past a government advertisement encouraging the public to get boosted now on Queen Street on December 29, 2021
Shoppers and commuters snub calls to keep masks on: Sainsbury’s and Asda customers dismiss pleas to cover-up while TfL passengers defy Sadiq Khan’s call to ‘do the right thing’ on day Plan B curbs are lifted
Shoppers and commuters snubbed calls to continue wearing masks yesterday after a raft of Covid curbs in England including compulsory face coverings and ‘vaccine passports’ were scrapped.
Supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Waitrose, and Transport for London are still insisting customers ‘do the right thing’ and cover their faces despite Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths all tumbling in the past 24 hours.
People at a Tesco superstore in Slough, Berkshire and an Asda in Kings Heath, south Birmingham chose not to wear masks today.
Shoppers at the Bentall Centre in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey told MailOnline that they would continue wearing masks ‘until the virus has been defeated’.
One person called face coverings ‘the best way to protect ourselves’ and insisted ‘there is no harm in it’. Another said: ‘I don’t want to get the virus’. And a fourth piped up: ‘How hard is it if your personal health is at risk? It is not really much of a hardship.’
However, large numbers of commuters at Liverpool Street Station and Waterloo in London chose to keep wearing face coverings.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said masks will remain mandatory on TfL services, calling on people to ‘do the right thing’.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘It is difficult to see any evidence that tougher restrictions in Scotland actually had an impact over and above what we were seeing in England.’
Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Reading University, added: ‘The different restrictions between the nations have not made a huge amount of difference (in terms of Covid deaths).
‘They are all in the same ballpark of deaths per capita. It does not suggest that tougher restrictions that Wales or Scotland have put in place have really done very much.’
The next formal review of coronavirus rules will be held by Welsh Labour ministers by February 10.
Welsh Conservative health spokesman Russell George urged the Labour administration to scrap ‘pointless vaccine passports’, ‘harmful business restrictions’, compulsory masks and the use of lockdowns to tackle Covid in the future.
‘As with normality in touching distance, we need dates on when we can learn to live with the virus with no further threats of lockdowns to deal with hypothetical variants,’ he said.
‘This means removing harmful business restrictions, making facemasks a matter of choice and self-responsibility, and scrapping coercive, ineffective, and pointless vaccine passports that still have no proof that they work.’
Plaid Cymru health spokesperson Rhun ap Iorwerth said: ‘Today’s lifting of restrictions is really encouraging news and confirmation that there really is light at the end of this tunnel.
‘The positive signs are there that we may be approaching an endemic phase – although we’re not there just yet. What the Welsh government must do now is get robust measures in place so we can learn to live with Covid as an endemic disease but be able to respond quickly should circumstances change.
‘They must also get a plan in place to ensure that our NHS itself makes a full recovery.
‘In the meantime, we must continue to push transmission downwards, through basic measures such as mask wearing, ventilation and encouraging even wider vaccine take-up. It’s been a long two years, and our thanks to all health and care workers remains heartfelt.’
Last week, crowds were allowed to return to outdoor sporting events and limits on the numbers taking part in outdoor activities were binned.
In Scotland, nightclub closures, the requirement for table service in hospitality and one-metre physical distancing in hospitality and leisure settings ended at 5am on Monday.
Attendance limits on indoor events and the guidance asking people to stick to a three-household limit on indoor gatherings were also lifted.
And Covid guidance that required Scots to work from home where possible is being ditched in favour of hybrid working, Nicola Sturgeon announced this week.
The First Minister said from January 31 employers ‘should consider implementing hybrid working, following appropriate guidance, with workers spending some time in the office and some time at home’.
However, she said the change was not expected to spark a ‘wholesale return to the office next week’, with the First Minister adding that, at this stage in the pandemic, a ‘mass return’ is ‘likely to set progress back’.
The wearing of face coverings in public indoor settings and on public transport, as well as working from home whenever possible, will remain.
A woman wearing a face mask takes an order from a customer at Barkers Tea Rooms in High Street Arcade in Cardiff on December 29, 2021
This graph shows the cumulative Covid death rate for the four UK nations based on data from the Office for National Statistics, which counts every death certificate that mentions Covid. It reveals that despite its tough curbs Wales has the highest Covid death rate
Pictured above is the death rate over time between England’s four-nations per 100,000 people over the previous seven days, according to the Department of Health. Separate data based on death certificates from the Office for National Statistics shows Wales has the highest cumulative death rate followed by England, Scotland and Northern Ireland
This graph shows the Covid hospitalisation rate across the four nations of the UK during the pandemic. It shows although England’s rose to the highest level during the Omicron wave, it has now started to fall largely following the same trend as the other three nations
Pictured above is the infection rate across the UK’s four nations over time. Despite tougher curbs Northern Ireland has the highest infection rate. England has the second-highest, although it did have the lowest between Christmas and New Year
Plan B measures are being relaxed across England, where face coverings and Covid passes are now no longer legally required.
Limits on visitors to care homes will be scrapped from next week as the country moves towards living with coronavirus.
From January 31, those living in care homes will be able to have unlimited visits from family and friends, while self-isolation periods will also be cut, the Department for Health and Social Care has said.
Guidance asking people to work from home has been lifted, and the legal requirement for people with coronavirus to self-isolate will also be allowed to end when the regulations expire on March 24.
From noon on Wednesday, the legal requirement to provide Covid certification to enter bars, restaurants and cinemas ended.
And in Northern Ireland, nightclubs can also now reopen, although vaccine certification will still be required for access to these venues.
In workplaces, the requirement to take reasonable measures for two-metre social distancing has also been removed.
It follows the ending last Friday of the requirement to remain seated and the limit of six per table at hospitality venues.
The cap has been lifted on the number of households meeting inside domestic settings.
The required self-isolation period following a positive Covid test was also reduced last Friday, with positive cases able to leave isolation on day six providing they have had two negative lateral flow tests, at least 24 hours apart, no earlier than day five and day six.
Other restrictions which remain in place for the foreseeable future include the wearing of face coverings.