Restrictions on events and businesses in Wales to slow the spread of the Omicron variant will be “gradually” removed over the next two weeks.
Prime Minister Brand Drakeford said the rules will be lifted in stages as Wales moves to “zero alert level”.
He said the devolved government can proceed as Omicron cases are falling “rapidly” and the recall campaign has been a success – with 1.75 million people in Wales having received an additional hit.
Outdoor activities will be the first to see all restrictions lifted, meaning Wales’ Six Nations matches next month can be played in front of crowds.
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What are the changes?
Drakeford presented a two-week roadmap at a press conference.
• The number of people who can be present at outdoor events will increase from 50 to 500
From January 21:
• No limit on the number of people who can participate in outdoor activities
• Crowds will return to outdoor sporting events and outdoor hospitality can operate without additional reasonable measures
• COVID passes will be required for access to larger outdoor events
From January 28:
• Wales will move to zero alert level for all indoor activities and premises
• Nightclubs can reopen with required COVID passes, as are cinemas, concerts and theaters
• Working from home is no longer a legal obligation
From February 10:
• Wales returns to a three-week review cycle as the country is at zero alert level
Mr Drakeford said the restrictions can be lifted ‘thanks to the hard work and effort of everyone in Wales who have once again followed all the rules and taken all steps to keep themselves and their loved ones safe’ .
He continued: “There will be tough days and weeks as we continue to respond to Omicron, but we know there will be many more better days for all of us.”
What restrictions have been put in place?
Wales has been at “alert level two” since Boxing Day, which means:
• Ceilings for people meeting indoors and outdoors
• Hospitality should stick to the rules regarding table service and apply the rule of six
• A ban on crowds at sporting events
• Discotheques forced to close their doors
The rules were introduced to curb the spread of Omicron and put Wales well out of step with Downing Street, which introduced no new measures after Christmas or New Year.
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And earlier this month, Chester FC said it was ‘ridiculous’ that it has been said he could breach Welsh coronavirus regulations by allowing fans to watch home games.
The non-league club is registered in England, but the Welsh border runs through the stadium, meaning the pitch and stands are in Wales.
The club had staged two home matches in front of fans since the new Welsh guidelines came into effect and received a warning during a meeting with North Wales Police.
The Welsh government has also been criticized for delaying the return of parkrun to December.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted: “Parkrun has helped so many people improve their health across the UK. I don’t see how restricting outdoor exercise in this way is justified or proportionate.”
Former Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has called the Welsh decision on outdoor gatherings “madness”.
Welsh athletics boss James Williams has also called on officials to reconsider the move.
Drakeford defends stricter rules
Responding to questions from reporters, Mr Drakeford defended the stricter restrictions in Wales than in England.
“The measures we took in Wales were both necessary and effective. This gap in experience between Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and this rapid and continuing increase in England” , did he declare.
“This gap means thousands more people getting sick, more people being admitted to hospital, more people unable to work because they were sick with coronavirus.
“The actions we have taken in Wales to flatten the curve to end it more quickly, I think, have paid real dividends here and fully justify the actions that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland North have taken.”