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Coronavirus

Christmas in Lockdown: Wales brings new Tier 4 restrictions forward and throws Christmas plans into chaos

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Swansea Bay and the rest of Wales went into Tier 4 Covid-19 restrictions from midnight on Friday following a dramatic late-in-the-day announcement by the Welsh First Minister.

This means that people must stay at home, except for very limited purposes. People must not visit other households, or meet other people they do not live with. Many types of businesses are required to close, including gyms, hairdressers, hospitality and leisure centres. Two households will be allowed to meet for Christmas Day only.

In a statement Mark Drakeford, the First Minister said: “Today, I met the First Ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland, and Michael Gove, from the UK Government, to discuss the very latest information on a new strain of coronavirus.

“We now know that this new strain is significantly more infectious and spreads more quickly than the original one. Many of you will have heard the Prime Minister this afternoon setting out the pattern of transmission in London and the South East of England, which has been linked to this new variant of coronavirus. This is remarkably consistent with the rapid acceleration of transmission in Wales and the high rates of cases we have seen in recent weeks.

“The latest evidence suggests this new strain is present throughout Wales. Throughout the public health emergency, we have had to respond quickly to the rapid changes, which have been so typical of coronavirus.

“Today has been one of those days when new information has required an immediate response. This afternoon, the Cabinet met to discuss this worrying new development in the pandemic and to hear the latest advice from our senior medical and scientific advisers, including the impact on our NHS.

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“The situation is incredibly serious. I cannot overstate this.

“We have therefore reached the difficult decision to bring forward the alert level four restrictions for Wales, in line with the action being taken in London and the South East of England. These new restrictions will come into effect from midnight tonight instead of during the Christmas period.

This will mean non-essential retail, close contact services, gyms and leisure centres and hospitality will close at the end of trading today. Stay-at-home restrictions will also come into effect from midnight.

“Unfortunately, we must also look again at the arrangements for Christmas – we cannot expose people to the risk of this new, more virulent strain of coronavirus.

“We will therefore change the current rules, which allow two households to come together to form a Christmas bubble over a five-day period, so that they will apply on Christmas Day only.

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“Throughout the alert level four period, a single person household will be able to join with one other household.While we all want to avoid further disruption to businesses and plans for Christmas, our overriding duty is to protect lives here in Wales.We know that 2021 will be a different and a better year.

“Our economy will recover. Christmas will come again. But lives which are lost, are lost for ever.

“This new strain of the virus is another dreadful surprise in this long-running pandemic. We now have a pandemic within a pandemic, a crisis within a crisis.

“It is another challenge we must overcome. But one we will overcome together. We will continue to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and, together, we will keep Wales safe.”

What you must do at alert level 4

At alert level 4 you must:

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  • Follow social distancing rules with people you don’t live with or who are not in your support bubble.
  • Wear a face covering (if you are able to) in all indoor public places.
  • Stay at home.
  • Not create an extended household (single adults or single parents may join with one other household to form an exclusive support bubble).
  • Meet only the people you live with or your support bubble indoors.
  • Meet only your household or support bubble in private gardens.
  • Meet only your household or support bubble outdoors. 
  • Work from home if you can. 
  • Not travel without reasonable excuse. 
  • Not travel internationally without reasonable excuse.

What can open at alert level 4

  • Schools, colleges and childcare providers (informal childcare should only be essential only).
  • Higher Education Institutions (mix of in-person and remote learning).
  • Places of worship.
  • Community centres – limited opening (for example, for essential public services).
  • Crematoriums
  • Playgrounds and public parks
  • Weddings and funerals (ceremony limit set by venue).

What must be closed at alert level 4

  • Venues for events and conferences
  • Theatres and concert halls
  • Indoor and outdoor visitor attractions
  • Entertainment venue
  • Wedding reception or wake
  • Sport courts, golf courses
  • Leisure and fitness facilities
  • Outdoor visitor attractions
  • Holiday accommodation (open only if essential only, for example for work or other reasons)
  • Hospitality (except for takeaway and delivery)
  • Close contact services
  • Non-essential retail (click and collect allowed)
  • Licenced premises. Takeaway and delivery only between 6am and 10pm
  • Libraries and archive services (click and collect only)
  • Organised activities limited to public and voluntary services
  • Nightclubs and adult entertainment venues

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Coronavirus

Face coverings retained in health and social care settings

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First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed the legal requirement to wear a face covering in health and care settings will remain in place.

Speaking after the latest three-week review of the coronavirus regulations, the First Minister said the public health situation was improving following the recent spike in cases caused by the BA.2 sub-type of omicron.

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But Covid case rates remain high so maintaining the use of face coverings in health and care settings will help to protect to some of the most vulnerable people in society, staff and visitors.

The First Minister also urged everyone to continue to take measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus by following a set of simple steps to protect one another and keep Wales safe.

These include self-isolating if ill or testing positive for Covid-19; wearing a face covering in crowded indoor places, meeting outdoors wherever possible; keeping indoor areas well ventilated and washing hands regularly.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The pandemic isn’t over but we are seeing encouraging signs the recent high levels of infections across Wales are falling.

“There are steps we can all take to protect ourselves while coronavirus is still circulating and reduce the spread of the virus even further. This is particularly true in places where some of the most vulnerable people in society are being treated and live, which is why we will retain the legal requirement to wear face coverings in health and social care settings.

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“More generally, ensuring you are up-to-date with your Covid vaccinations and spring booster – if you are eligible – is really important. If you have Covid symptoms or test positive, please stay at home and help break the chain of transmission.

“Together, we can carry on keeping each other safe and keeping Wales safe.”

The next three-weekly review of coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 26 May.

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Coronavirus

Schools’ Covid guidance aligned to businesses and other workplaces

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The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, has announced that Covid-19 measures for schools in Wales will be brought into line with guidance for businesses and other organisations.

The Welsh Government has written to schools in Wales this morning to inform them of the changes.

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Since September last year, schools have applied measures to stop the spread of Coronavirus according to local circumstances, based on the Local Covid-19 infection control decision framework for schools. Schools will no longer be advised to use the framework.

The change is in line with the Welsh Government’s long-term Covid-19 transition from pandemic to endemic. The risk from coronavirus is now considered in the same context as other communicable diseases, such as flu.

The First Minister has announced that the remaining coronavirus restrictions will be removed from 9 May, if the public health situation remained stable. The changes to the guidance for schools will also come into effect from 9 May.

Schools and other education settings will continue to be advised to work with local authorities and public health advisors to ensure that measures remain appropriate and proportionate and reflect local risks and circumstances.

A checklist will be provided to support schools and settings in considering which control measures remain proportionate. Special schools will continue to follow the advice for children and young people with higher clinical risk and clinically extremely vulnerable adults.

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Speaking at the Welsh Government’s weekly press briefing, Jeremy Miles said: “In line with the wider public health guidance published at the last three-week review, we have today written to headteachers to signpost the impending changes to our advice for schools, which reflect the move from pandemic to endemic. This will ensure school guidance is more closely aligned with the rest of society.

“We all know that Covid-19 has not gone way. It remains vitally important we reduce the spread of the virus where we can – this includes, for example, following self-isolation guidance, and for education settings to continue to undertake robust risk assessments.”

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Coronavirus

Health board extends shuttle bus between Llanelli and COVID vaccination centre

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Hywel Dda University Health Board (HDUHB) has extended the free shuttle bus service between Llanelli town centre and the mass vaccination centre in Dafen to help people access their COVID-19 vaccination as easily as possible.

The shuttle bus, provided by Dolen Teifi, will continue to run between 10.30am to 4.40pm, seven days a week – with no service at 12.00pm from town or at 12.15pm from the mass vaccination centre to allow the drivers a lunch break.

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People can board the shuttle bus on the hour and at half-past the hour at Church Street, outside Llanelli Magistrates Court.

The shuttle bus will leave the mass vaccination centre quarter past and quarter to the hour, returning to the town centre and dropping passengers off opposite Llanelli library.

Bethan Lewis, Interim Assistant Director of Public Health for Hywel Dda UHB, said: “We need as many people as possible attending their COVID-19 vaccine appointments, or dropping in if eligible.

“This shuttle bus service is one of many additional resources and services being put in place across the Hywel Dda region to help support more people to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. I am pleased the shuttle bus service has been extended to help people reliant on public transport to access their COVID-19 vaccine.”

On 21 February 2022, the JCVI published a statement, recommending an additional spring booster.

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Strict COVID-19 safety measures are in place to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers on this service, including wearing face coverings unless medically exempt.

A maximum of 14 passengers are allowed per journey with a screen in place between driver and passengers.

The health board say that passengers should only use this service if they are fit and well on the day.

They add that before travelling without an appointment to Dafen mass vaccination centre, people should check the health board’s website for up-to-date information such as vaccine eligibility and drop-in opening times.

(Lead image: Hywel Dda NHS)

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