WALES’ health minister has refused to rule out tightening Covid-19 restrictions over Christmas in response to a predicted surge of infections driven by the Omicron variant.
So far, just five cases of the new variant have been detected in Wales and the Government has vowed to offer all eligible adults a booster vaccine by the end of January to try to keep transmission under control.
Despite the plan, health minister Eluned Morgan refused to rule out further measures, saying a decision would be taken “as and when” a clearer picture of Omicron’s impact emerges.
Speaking at a press conference, she said: “We can’t give you any assurances on that because we are still learning about the situation.
“We believe that the vaccines will give you far more protection and the boosters will give you more protection than if you didn’t have a vaccine so we’re working on that basis.”
She continued: “Clearly, we will be monitoring the situation – we will be responding in real time in relation to what is happening within our communities and we are expecting a significant increase in the number of people with Omicron in Wales in the next few weeks.
Baroness Morgan added: “We will need to respond to the situation as and when we see that situation deteriorating – the extent to which we will need to intervene is clearly a matter the Welsh government is still considering.”
Wales’ deputy chief medical officer Dr Gill Richardson said she wanted to see “the minimum restrictions possible” but did not specify what might be needed.
She said: “I think obviously, we would like to impose the minimum restrictions possible whilst maintaining a safe approach to Covid-19 and that includes this variant at the moment.”
Dr Richardson said if the public strictly follows all the existing guidance including social distance, hand hygiene and face masks “then we should be able to keep each other safe for as long as possible”.
The Welsh Government is aiming to offer more than 200,000 vaccine appointments over winter.
Health boards are again setting up more vaccination centres, including walk-in and drive-through clinics with longer opening hours.
Local government, fire services and students will then provide support to the clinics, and anyone wishing to volunteer to help the rollout is asked to visit the Government’s website for details on how to sign up.
Baroness Morgan said “(We) need to make it clear that we are expecting a significant wave of Omicron to hit Wales.
“What we know is that a small reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine could have a significant impact on the NHS, if we literally saw hundreds of thousands of people being affected by Omicron.”
She urged everyone who is offered one to get a vaccine, calling it “the best Christmas present you can give yourself and your family”.