Updated “Coronavirus Control Plan” released for path out of lockdowns – no “arbitrary deadlines”
An updated “coronavirus control plan” outlining how Wales could emerge from the toughest restrictions in the coming months has been released.
The document, which was published yesterday lunchtime states that a “cautious approach” is needed to move out of lockdown.
Currently Wales is at alert level four – the highest level of restrictions – meaning that people can only leave home for essential travel or exercise within their local area.
The coronavirus control plan sets out the Welsh Government’s priorities in coming out of the current level of lockdown.
It follows on from a similar “traffic light system” showing exactly what must remain closed and what can reopen under each alert level, which was released just days before the national lockdown was announced.
Since that document was published there have been new variants detected across Wales and the rest of the UK.
The ‘Kent’ strain, which emerged in December, has now become the dominant variant in Wales.
However it also acknowledges the vaccination process, which has now seen more than 836,000 people in Wales receive their first dose. Work issuing the second vaccines is also now underway.
This, First Minister Mark Drakeford and Health Minister Vaughan Gething write, offers “us hope for the future as more and more people are vaccinated over the course of the year.
The document outlines what the indicators for coming out of alert level four to alert level three – short of a firebreak – will be and the steps needed to get there.
This includes the criteria set out in the alert levels framework, but will be supplemented by data on the prevalence of new variants in Wales, information on the vaccine rollout, and evidence of the impact of vaccines.
Mr Drakeford and Mr Gething say: “While we can look forward to a time where we are relaxing restrictions
more quickly, for now we need to be much more cautious. The variants and mutations of concern mean that we cannot move directly and fully into alert level three in one step.
“We will need to get there in gradual steps, assessing the impact as we go along. This is consistent with advice from our Technical Advisory Cell, the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and the World Health Organisation.
“A step-by-step approach will help us calibrate our response and ensure our priorities, such as ensuring students return to school, are not put at risk by trying to do too much too quickly.
“We will adopt a similar approach to that we took from May 2020 when coming out of the first lockdown.
“This means taking careful steps and evaluating the impact before making further changes. The three-week review cycle we already have in place provides us with the right amount of time to see the effects of the changes we make before we make any more.
“As with last summer, if the evidence changes and the conditions allow, we may be able to make changes outside of the three week cycle.
“This will make sure restrictions are only in place for as long as they are needed.
“Our approach must continue to be intelligence and data led. We will not set arbitrary deadlines for the reasons set out in this document.
“There are too many uncertainties and we need to know more about the effectiveness of vaccines, the impacts and prevalence of variants and mutations of concern, and the impact of the changes we do make.”
The plan states that the priorities “likely to be prioritised in the move to alert level three” include children returning to school, outdoor activities and looking at opening.
However gyms, leisure centres, and hospitality are described as being “higher risk”.
Mr Gething and Mr Drakeford add: “The indicators we will look at will include those set out in the alert levels framework, but will be supplemented by data on the prevalence of new variants in Wales, information on the vaccine rollout, and evidence of the impact of vaccines.
“As the vaccines take effect and the pressures on the NHS diminish, the importance of mitigating the socio-economic harms becomes critical.
“All of these factors will be combined with local intelligence about the situations on the ground across Wales, advice from our Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientific Advisor for Health, and other health professionals.
“The transmissibility of the new variants means that thresholds cannot be set with any certainty and the impact of variants and vaccines will also change those thresholds in different directions.
“We will need to continuously evaluate and re-adjust how indicators are applied to our decisions.”
The document also hints that previous lockdowns, possibly the firebreak which had a sharp fixed reopening, were perhaps not handled correctly as it notes: “We will adopt a similar approach to that we took from May 2020 when coming out of the first lockdown” adding, “We will not set arbitrary deadlines for the reasons set out in this document.”
You can view the full PDF here on the Welsh Government website.
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