WALES finds itself in a delicate position, with calls to lift all covid restrictions growing – while new cases of the latest virus strain rising.
With England having removed all of its covid restrictions, it comes as little surprise that the Welsh Government is fielding calls to follow in Boris Johnson’s footsteps.
Following this, it was announced that a decision will be made on the future of restrictions in Wales on Thursday, March 24, ahead of first minister Mark Drakeford’s three week review the following day – Friday, March 25.
If the public health situation allows for it, an announcement lifting restrictions in Wales will follow, the Welsh Government said.
But, the BA.2 strain of covid has recently emerged, and it is growing – having overtaken omicron as the most prevalent variant in Wales.
As a result, the situation is finely poised, with restrictions disappearing, additional measures being put in place, or continuing in an uneasy middle ground all on the table.
Speaking at a briefing earlier today – Tuesday, March 22 – health minister Eluned Morgan summed it up, saying: “It is going to be a very finely balanced judgement in terms of whether we continue with our planned approach to releasing those final restrictions which we still have in place here.”
Below, you can find out more about all of the moving parts in place, before the decision can be made.
Why restrictions should be lifted
Neighbouring England has lifted all of its restrictions, and with many commuting across the border from Newport and Gwent – and vice-versa – there is a logical argument to bring the two nations in line.
From a data point of view, Wales is actually in the best place of any of the home nations to lift restrictions.
Wales currently has the lowest case rate in the UK – lower than England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
What’s more, the omicron covid wave appears to be under control.
Ms Morgan said: “Since the end of January, we have seen a steady decline in cases of coronavirus as the winter omicron wave receded”.
So, based on the above, all restrictions should be lifted? Unfortunately, there are a number of other factors at play.
Why restrictions should remain
While omicron might be on the decline, there is a new menace in town – the BA.2 covid strain.
In the last three weeks, the number of covid cases per 100,000 people in Wales has more than doubled, well above 300 per 100,000 people.
BA.2 has also overtaken omicron as the most prevalent strain.
But perhaps the biggest reason to keep restrictions in place is the pressure that the NHS once again finds itself under.
There are more than 1,200 people in hospital with the virus, and, while most of these are not in intensive care, it is the highest hospitalisation rate since March 2021.
Simply put, the NHS is creaking once again.
So, what decision can we expect?
It might sound like a bit of a cliché, but the decision as to whether restrictions will be lifted could come down to the wire.
The Welsh Government is set to make a decision on Thursday, before announcing it on Friday.
Ms Morgan said: “It is going to be a very finely balanced judgement in terms of whether we continue with our planned approach to releasing those final restrictions which we still have in place here.
“There are no foregone conclusions. We’re analysing the data, we’re giving ourselves as much time as we can. We will act in the best interest of the NHS and the public health in Wales.
“We have got to consider the pressures on the NHS at the minute. Our hospitals are full already. Any additional new pressure is going to lead to more difficulties in terms of access to accident and emergencies, difficulties with getting ambulances to people. All of those things will be considered as well.
“These are difficult judgements. We’ve always tried to follow the science, but this is going to be a finely balanced judgement.
“It may be that we’ll be keeping some restrictions, but there are no decisions that have been made so far.”