Wales’ Deputy Chief Medic: “I would be very surprised” if life is almost back to normal by June 21
A top Welsh Government medical advisor says he would be “very surprised” if things have returned to ‘something close to normal’ by 21 June.
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Chris Jones, has also warned that lifting too many restrictions too early will risk a third wave of Covid infections.
On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a four stage roadmap to ‘cautiously’ ease lockdown in England, which could see most restrictions lifted by the end of June.
In the roadmap, a number of key dates were given starting with a return for all schools in England on 8 March and culminating with what would essentially be the end of Covid restrictions on 21 June.
Outdoor gatherings of either 6 people or 2 households will be allowed from 29 March as well as the reopening of outdoor sports facilities, formally organised outdoor sports allowed and the stay at home order lifted.
From 12 April at the earliest shops, hairdressers, nail salons, libraries, outdoor attractions and outdoor hospitality venues such as beer gardens will be allowed to reopen.
Most social contact rules outdoors will be lifted from 17 May, indoor sports and hospitality will be able to resume and crowds of up to 10,000 will be allowed at large sporting venues.
From 21 June at the earliest, all remaining restrictions on social contact could be lifted, larger events can go ahead and nightclubs could finally reopen, again all these relate to England only.
The UK government said all the dates are heavily caveated and dependent on reviews of how well the preceding period of restriction-lifting has gone, with a five-week gap between each stage.
Ultimately it is hoped the increased protection offered by vaccines will gradually replace the restrictions.
Dr Jones said there is a “real risk of a third wave” of Covid infections if restrictions are relaxed too quickly and too early.
He told BBC Radio Wales: “We know the risk is less if the prevalence of the infection is low when you relax restrictions, we also know that a likely increase (or third wave) would be less if changes are made gradually.”
There are calls for the Welsh Government to publish their own ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown.
As it stands, some minor changes were announced on Friday such as four people from two different households being able to meet outdoors for socially distanced local exercise.
From 1 March, the law will be changed to allow licensed wedding venues, such as visitor attractions and hotels, to reopen but only to perform wedding and civil partnership ceremonies.
Falling infection levels across Wales has brought some ‘headroom’ with it being used to allow children aged three to seven begin a phased return to classrooms this week.
The Welsh Government has said the review of restrictions around non-essential retail and close contact services such as hairdressers in Wales will be announced on 14 March.
Dr Jones said: “There is a risk of a third wave, there’s no doubt about that, but we are hoping through our cautious incremental approach, learning from each change that we make will minimise the risk of that.
“We still have a vulnerable population because we’ve only had time to vaccinate the most at risk. There are so many others who could be very ill with Covid, should they get it.”
Asked if he could see restrictions lifted by 21 June, Dr Jones said: “I would be very surprised if that was the case.
“I think there’s going to be a considerable time before we can mix freely in nightclubs, or without any form of social distancing or protection.
“I would be very surprised if we achieve that, but it will be wonderful to think it is possible. I think we all need some hope, but we’re not in that position yet.
“We still have to restrict our activities because this virus still thrives on person to person contact and that is going to be the case now for many more months, we do have to be really careful with the messaging here.”
Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies, has called on the first minister to either publish a ‘roadmap’ to recovery or adopt key parts of the plan announced by the prime minister on Monday in the House of Commons.
He said: “It’s time for Labour ministers to cut out the politics by working with the UK Government to adopt a common framework on key restrictions as we move out of lockdown.
“The science on the rule of six, children’s outdoor sport or sitting on a park bench doesn’t differ between Wales and England, and it’s time to stop being different for the sake of being different when it’s achieved so little and only served to cause confusion.
“Clarity in the recovery and for people in Wales is now vital, particularly as over a third of our population live within 20 miles of the English border, and where commuting, working and socialising across Offa’s Dyke is normally such an important part of everyday life.
“Last week’s Welsh Government briefing was a missed opportunity to provide a route forward and announce greater support for business, and Mark Drakeford must now fill the void and outline a roadmap to recovery with windows of opportunity for people and businesses.
“The First Minister should move quickly and either issue a roadmap to recovery for Wales, or better still, confirm he will work with the UK Government to pursue a joined-up approach.”
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