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Mark Drakeford on lifting mask-wearing restrictions in Wales

WE MUST begin to learn to make decisions on how to manage the risk from Covid-19 based on what is right, rather than what is allowed under the law, first minister Mark Drakeford has said.

During a press conference this lunchtime, Mr Drakeford said that, while people will no longer be legally required to wear masks on public transport or in retail settings from Monday, the Welsh Government’s ‘strong advice’ would be to continue to wear them.

He also confirmed that from the same date, there will be no legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for the virus, and issued the same ‘strong advice’ that people should do it.

He said to help with people continuing to isolate, the £500 isolation payment for families on low incomes would remain in place until June and that free lateral flow testing for people who think they have symptoms will also remain available.

When asked if now was the right time to do this considering the increase in cases relating to the BA2 strain of covid – which Mr Drakeford called “more transmissible than the omicron variant” – the first minister responded that it had previously been planned to end all restrictions in this week’s review, but he and his cabinet felt they were unable to do so due to the increase in cases.

He likened the move to other viruses including measles.

“We have to manage it like we would other conditions,” he said. “If you have measles, you wouldn’t go to work with it. That’s not law, it’s what is right.”

He also called on the public to be sensible and use what they have learnt over the past two years. Mr Drakeford said: “For a disease that is moving from being pandemic to endemic, the public response has to move as well.

“Because the cases are higher than expected, we are not able to move beyond that place and that is why we have not fully removed the restrictions.

“People are able to do the right thing from their experience of two years of the virus and our strong advice as well.”

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Mr Drakeford also highlighted how, unlike in Wales, it was never a legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive covid test in Scotland, and yet isolation levels were not reported to be lower compared to other nations.

He also urged employers to not force their staff into work if they test positive after the self-isolation period ends.

“No employer should put their staff in that position,” he said. “They shouldn’t do it for all the public health reasons, but they shouldn’t do it for their business either.”

He continued: “If you force an employee to go in, all that will happen is more people will get infected and then the business will be infected and affected.”

What are the changes?

  • From Monday, March 28, it will not be a legal requirement to wear masks on public transport and in retail settings, although it is still strongly advised.
  • From the same date, it will not be a legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive, but again it is strongly advised.
  • The £500 isolation payment for low-income families will continue until June. It is hoped that this will continue further if it is needed and the funds from the UK government allow.
  • Free lateral flow tests will be available in Wales until around June but it is hoped they will be available longer depending on UK government funding.
  • You must still wear a mask in all health and social care settings unless exempt.
  • Businesses must continue to carry out risk assessments and implement measures to prevent covid spreading as much as possible.
  • Bosses should not force employees who have tested positive for covid to go into work.
  • Teachers, staff and secondary school pupils should wear continue to wear masks for the rest of the term.

The next review will take place on Thursday, April 14.

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