THIS Friday (Dec 16) the First Minister will set out a two-phase plan to respond to the current delta variant and the new, fast-moving, easily transmissible omicron variant, which is expected to be the dominant form of the virus in the UK by the end of the month.
The Welsh Government is issuing strong guidance to support people across Wales through the Christmas period.
Wales will then introduce new restrictions, including for businesses and services – from 27 December. These will include a 2m rule on social distancing in offices and putting extra measures in place to protect customers and staff, such as one-way systems and physical barriers.
Nightclubs will also close. These tougher restrictions are needed to help control the spread of omicron.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Delta will continue to be the main cause of coronavirus infections in Wales up to Christmas. But we are seeing cases of omicron increasing rapidly every day in Wales – and across the UK.
“We need a plan to keep us safe this Christmas and we need stronger measures to protect us afterwards, as we prepare for a large wave of omicron infections.
“Omicron poses a new threat to our health and safety. It is the most serious development in the pandemic to date.
“It is one we must take seriously. We will continue to put in place proportionate measures to protect people’s lives and livelihoods.
“This is a virus which thrives on human contact. Every contact we have is an opportunity for us to spread or catch the virus.”
The First Minister will urge everyone to follow five simple steps for a safer Christmas, as he says the more people we see in the run-up to Christmas, the more opportunities the virus has to spread.
Reducing our contact with others, especially if we are seeing older people or more vulnerable people over Christmas, will help to protect them from the virus.
To stay safe in the run up to Christmas, the Welsh Government is strongly advising everyone to follow these five measures to stay safe:
• Get vaccinated – and if you’ve had your booster appointment, please make attending your priority.
• If you’re going out, going Christmas shopping, or visiting people – flow before you go. Take a lateral flow test. If it’s positive – don’t go out.
• Meeting outdoors is better than indoors. If you’re meeting indoors make sure it’s well ventilated.
• Space out your socialising – if you’ve got events arranged, please leave at least a day between them.
• And don’t forget about social distancing, wearing a face covering and washing your hands.
The regulations will also be changed to include a requirement to work from home wherever possible.
After Christmas, on 27 December new legal restrictions will come into force, to help protect against the spread of the omicron variant.
The Welsh Government has announced up to £60m will be available to support businesses affected by the new restrictions.
The First Minister added: “This year a smaller Christmas is a safer Christmas. The fewer people we see, the less chance we have of catching or passing on the virus.
“Please enjoy Christmas with your nearest and dearest – and think about meeting up with wider circles of friends when the threat posed by the omicron variant has passed over.
“I also want to thank the many thousands of people who will be working this Christmas to keep us safe – especially all those who have cancelled their plans to work in the vaccination centres across Wales to increase our protection against this awful virus.”
BUSINESSES MUST BE PROTECTED SAYS ANDREW RT DAVIES
Commenting ahead of tomorrow’s latest COVID announcement, Welsh Conservative leader, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “The Omicron variant is spreading extremely fast in the UK – and the doubling rate in some areas is now down to less than two days. In Wales, we are still predominantly dealing with Delta, but it’s widely accepted the new variant will become the dominant strain, particularly in the New Year.
“Personal responsibility has always been crucial during the pandemic and that remains the case. “Serious consideration must be given to public health messaging as I’m sure I speak on behalf of the nation when we say we want to see as normal a Christmas as possible.
“However, there are significant concerns over the potential impact on workforce availability across key sectors including the NHS and social care. It’s imperative the Welsh Government works with the UK Government to ensure we can best protect public services and the supply chain moving forward.
“Some Welsh businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, are already seeing a significant impact on trade in wake of Omicron, and Labour ministers must use the £500 million of unallocated COVID support sitting in government coffers to help firms and protect jobs.
“It’s clear ministers of all colours across the UK are facing a challenging public health picture in an uncertain period. However, any consideration and implementation of restrictions must be evidence-based and have an impact on tackling the virus, unlike vaccine passports.”
Appeal to get Pilgrim sculpture back on its feet nearing target
A FUNDRAISING appeal to raise £7,500 to re-erect a sculpture of a pilgrim on the hilltop above the ruins of the famous Strata Florida Abbey in the Cambrian Mountains is within £700 of hitting its target.
The Pilgrim, or Y Pererin in the Welsh language, was created by artist Glenn Morris and erected on Penlan, the hill overlooking Strata Florida Abbey, near Pontrhydfendigaid, in 2012.
Sadly, the sculpture collapsed in high winds in 2019 and now lays forlorn on the hilltop, located between Devil’s Bridge and Tregaron.
This sculpture, created as part of a temporary exhibition, has become a popular and iconic part of the Welsh landscape, with strong connections to Welsh culture, language and identity.
Following its collapse, the sculpture is now missing from the skyline of Strata Florida and the fundraising appeal aims to rebuild a new stronger, permanent Pilgrim to stand the tests of time.
Planning permission for the new sculpture has already been secured and Glenn Morris is eager to begin the project.
The World Monuments Fund has offered to provide match funding if the community raises £7,500 by February 3. Anyone wishing to contribute to the fundraising target can donate online at https://localgiving.org/appeal/pilgrim/ .
An extra fundraising event for the Pilgrim appeal is being held on February 18. A 3.5 mile walk along a mixture of logging roads, farmlands and through ancient forest to reach the 12th century Cistercian abbey ruins of Strata Florida will be followed by a guided exhibition tour and Welsh tea.
This pilgrimage will be led by Guided Pilgrimage, a not-for-profit company providing a range of Celtic pilgrimage experiences in West Wales.
Strata Florida was a thriving community 900 years ago. Today, the conserved ruins of the old abbey church and part of the cloisters are in the care of Cadw, the Welsh Government’s heritage agency, and can be visited by the public from Easter to late autumn.
The remains are only a small fraction of what was once a much larger abbey, stretching over an area of 126 acres where the rest survives below ground as a well-preserved archaeology.
Denial of Wales-specific Covid inquiry ‘no longer tenable’ say Welsh Conservatives
THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES have reiterated their call for an inquiry that focuses exclusively on the actions of the Welsh Government in tackling coronavirus in a letter to the First Minister.
It was prompted after it was revealed that the Welsh Government have been aware that NHS Wales was not prepared for an airborne virus as far back as 2004, following the SARS outbreak. Despite committing to an audit and allocation to rectify the lack of isolation facilities, this did not materialise.
The letter from Andrew RT Davies MS, which states “decision made in Wales should be scrutinised in Wales” follows a weekend when Mark Drakeford was keen to highlight that his government had “always taken a different approach in Wales [compared to the British Government], one that does things step-by-step”.
In the letter, the Welsh Conservatives leader questions why, despite him stressing divergences in the approach to coronavirus, the First Minister still feels it “inappropriate to separate” from the British Government “when the time comes for accountability”.
The Labour Government policy is for its actions to be included in the UK-wide inquiry that will chiefly investigate the actions of the Conservative Government. There will be a Scotland-specific inquiry after Nicola Sturgeon commissioned one.
Joining the Welsh Conservatives in their calls for a Wales-specific inquiry are the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group, the British Lung Foundation, Medics 4 Mask Up Wales, the Institute for Welsh Affairs, and Plaid Cymru.
Commenting on the letter, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “The position of exercising wide-ranging emergency powers that curtailed the liberty and closed the economy of the Welsh people but avoiding accountability through an inquiry that focusses on how those decisions were made is no longer tenable.
“Under Mark Drakeford, Wales has experienced the highest Covid death-rate of UK nations, seen its children lose more time for learning than anywhere else in the country, and imposed economically cruel and clinically unnecessary restrictions in an overzealous attempt to tackle the Omicron variant.
“We, along with bereaved families and medical groups, believe that the decisions that led to these outcomes need to be put under the spotlight, not hidden in the shadow of an inquiry that will inevitably focus on the British Government.
“Indeed, if Mark Drakeford is so confident in the actions of his government, then why is he against having them examined in a Wales-specific inquiry? That is what people will be asking when British and Scottish leaders have ordered investigations into their own handling of the pandemic.
“As I say to the First Minister in my letter, it is not too late for him to change his mind and take this opportunity to do the right thing and order that inquiry.”
Ceredigion MP supports calls on UK government to address energy crisis
BEN LAKE MP, Co-chair of the APPG on Fuel Poverty and Energy Efficiency, has signed a cross-party letter to the UK Government calling for a range of financial support measures to address the current energy crisis.
Following a record increase in October 2021 to the price cap, energy bills are set to increase again significantly in April across the UK, and could reach as high as £2000 for the average household, an increase of £700 compared to today’s prices. Experts have also said that these prices are likely to be sustained for two or more years.
Polling conducted by YouGov has shown that 6 out of 10 British households say they would reduce their heating use by a fair amount/great deal if the cost of heating doubles.
Ben Lake MP said: “The hike will be a disaster for those who were already struggling to pay their bills and could leave over 6 million households in fuel poverty across the UK. These price increases will impact all households. But for those who were already struggling to pay their bills, it will be catastrophic. Without any additional support, millions will sink further into debt, and many will turn off the heating, leaving them at acute risk of serious ill-health and putting further strain on our stretched health services.”
The cross-party letter calls on the UK Government to ensure that any support package to address the crisis works in the best interests of fuel poor households, for example, by increasing the support available through existing schemes such as such as the winter fuel support scheme in Wales or an additional targeted rebate which could be delivered this winter.
The letter also adds “that any effort to reduce energy bills should not include the removal of green levies.”
Ben Lake MP added: “While there are arguments about whether green levies should remain on energy bills or be added instead to income tax, there is no justification for removing them completely. To do so would be to compound the gas crisis which we face by exacerbating fuel poverty and further delaying the transition away from fossil fuels.
“I will continue to work alongside colleagues to ensure the most vulnerable households are protected as far as possible from the current threat of significantly increased domestic energy bills.”
Popular This Week
Health5 days ago
‘Once in a lifetime bid’ for health and care investment in mid and west Wales
Education1 week ago
Half a million boost to Aberystwyth University’s new nursing education facilities
News4 days ago
Young People partner up with Arad Goch to create powerful short film on what it means to be a Young Carer
Health1 week ago
Same Day Urgent Care at Cardigan Integrated Care Centre
Community2 days ago
Appeal to get Pilgrim sculpture back on its feet nearing target
News1 week ago
Financial support for businesses impacted by coronavirus restrictions
Business1 week ago
Applications open for emergency financial support from Economic Resilience Fund
Community4 days ago
Ceredigion County Council to mark Holocaust Memorial Day