THE FIRST MINISTER has said Wales will “move away from legal requirements” on the pandemic response, but still expects “most people to continue to do what is asked for them to behave respectfully of other people”.
The First Minister Mark Drakeford made the comments during the live briefing at lunchtime, adding, “With nearly 1000 people in a hospital bed associated with COVID-19 the pressures that creates in the wider NHS remain very real, and with some serious and continuing knock on consequences on other health services and treatments.
“The public health situation has improved thanks to the efforts that we have all made together in Wales over recent months. The result is that in this latest three week review of the regulations, Wales can remain at alert level zero.”
“Now that combination of high vaccination rates and improving level of infections means that we are able to think about moving beyond the emergency response to the pandemic.
“This does not mean that the pandemic is over. But, it does mean that we are able to think now about how we can live safely with the virus just as we live with other infectious illnesses. Today we’ve published a plan that sets out how we can do this, while ensuring that we can respond quickly if a new variant emerges. Or, if we have another pandemic wave putting unsustainable pressure on our NHS.
“If the public health position remains favorable, we will start this transition by removing the legal underpinning of the measures we have lived with for the last two years and will remove the legal requirements from the 28th of March.”
The First Minister detailed that from that date the legal requirement to wear face coverings will end, the legal requirement to self isolate will end, and the legal requirement for businesses to carry out specific covid risk assessments and take reasonable measures will end as well.
With the legal regulation frameworks being withdrawn the First Minister went on to explain strong advice would remain, “I wanted to be clear that the ways we have learned to behave and which have kept us safe during the pandemic will continue to be important after the 28th of March.
“While we have moved away from legal requirements, the Welsh Government will continue to provide guidance, which will make it clear for example that we should self isolate if we are ill with the virus, businesses and employers will still be subject to the general health and safety requirements. Schools will continue to operate using the national framework, and for now, we’re recommending the face coverings continue to be worn in communal indoor areas by all staff and secondary school age students.”
On testing he explained from the 28th of March, the routine use of PCR tests for the general public will come to an end. Lateral flow tests instead will continue to be available free online for anyone with symptoms. PCR testing will continue to be used to test patients admitted to hospitals, to test health and social care staff, care home residents and others in vulnerable settings.
He wrapped up his opening remarks by saying, “Now as we approach the second anniversary of the pandemic, we can look forward with growing confidence that the next year will be one in which we will have this very different relationship with the virus as we move beyond the emergency response.
“I know that some people, especially the most vulnerable and those who have been shielding will be anxious about this process, I want to be clear that the plan that we have set out will go on protecting your health and well being as we all learn to live safely with the virus.
“Together, we can go on keeping one another safe.”