Mark Drakeford led a sombre press conference as Covid cases in Wales continue to rise.
Speaking after announcing that there would be no substantial lifting of restrictions for a month the First Minister told the press conference that “for the first time this year, we have seen a sustained, week-on-week increase in the rate of coronavirus cases across Wales, as the new Delta variant takes hold”.
Earlier today he spoke to WalesOnline about some bleak modelling for the future of the virus in Wales. Go here to read that.
The is the full address he gave at Friday’s Welsh Government press conference:
“Prynhawn da and thank you for joining me today.
“Since February, every time I have spoken to you about coronavirus, I have been able to describe an improving picture across Wales.
“I’ve been able to tell you case numbers have been falling, positivity rates are down and, in recent months, the number of people in hospital has been reducing. But today, sadly, that picture is different.
“For the first time this year we have seen a sustained week-on-week increase in the rate of coronavirus cases across Wales as the new Delta variant takes hold.
“Cases have fallen steadily since their peak in the winter to the very low levels we saw last month.
“Since the end of May cases have begun to rise once again across Wales. We have also seen a sharp increase in cases among people under 25.
“When I spoke to you a fortnight ago there were fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people in Wales. Today the rate is 23.6 and there are two local authority areas with rates above 50 cases per 100,000 people. The positivity rate has more than doubled to 2.4%.
“These increases are being driven by the Delta variant. Two weeks ago there were 97 confirmed cases, most of which were linked to clusters in north and south east Wales. Yesterday there were just under 490 reported cases. The number will be higher today.
“The most recent information from Public Health Wales suggests eight out of 10 new cases of coronavirus in Wales are of the Delta variant. In north Wales this week almost all new cases were the Delta variant.
“The variant is now in widespread circulation. More than two-thirds of new cases are from community contacts.
“In the space of just a few weeks the Delta variant has entered Wales and quickly spread throughout the country. There is sustained and accelerating transmission not just in north and south east Wales but in all parts of Wales.
“Once again we are facing a serious public health situation.
“Our scientific advisers believe the UK is now in the pre-peak stage of a third wave of the pandemic.
“Wales may be two to three weeks behind what is happening in England and in Scotland, where tens of thousands of cases have been confirmed, there is widespread transmission and reports of increased hospital admissions.
“In the last week the First Minister of Scotland and the Prime Minister have both paused their plans to relax coronavirus restrictions because of concern about the delta variant.
“And today I have to announce we will be doing the same.
“We have reached this conclusion by carefully considering all the data available about the public health situation.
“We have looked at the latest modelling available from Swansea University and the advice from both our Technical Advisory Cell and from the UK Sage group.
“The increasing spread of the Delta variant and the growth in coronavirus cases means we will not be going ahead with any new alert level one indoor relaxations this week or any further relaxations to the coronavirus regulations over the next three-week cycle.
“This four-week pause will allow us to focus on vaccinating even more people to help us to manage the impact of this new wave of infections.
“We have the lowest coronavirus rates in the UK and the highest vaccination rates.
“A four-week delay in relaxing restrictions could help to reduce the peak number of daily hospital admissions by up to half at a time when the NHS is very busy supporting all our healthcare needs – not just treating coronavirus.
“Although we will be delaying making any substantial changes to the regulations we be making some smaller amendments to help make them easier to understand and apply to everyday life.
“From Monday the size of the venue and a risk assessment will determine how many people can attend an indoor wedding or civil partnership reception or wake.
“We will begin the re-opening of residential outdoor education centres, starting with primary school-age children.
“We will amend the regulations to bring grassroots music and comedy venues into line with the rules for hospitality.
“We will update the regulations so they reflect the latest the evidence about how businesses can take all reasonable measures to reduce risk on their premises and clarify the rules about two-metre distancing for groups of six people.
“Our programme of pilot events in theatre, sport, and other sectors will continue to run during June and July, testing ways larger numbers of people can gather safely.
“We are issuing updated guidance today about hospital visiting including the use of testing to help people visit sick relatives.
“We are also publishing a statement by our scientific advisers about the use of face coverings in schools.
“There will be no immediate change but we will work with schools, local authorities, and teaching unions to find ways for the future that they do not need to be worn in every classroom every day.
“Over the next four weeks our focus will be on vaccinating as many people as we can to maximise protection against this awful virus.
“Our fantastic vaccine programme has provided nearly two and a quarter million first doses – that’s 88% of the adult population.
“We continue to have the best vaccination rates in UK and some of the best in the world thanks to the hard work of all our vaccination teams.
“This week we reached our target of offering all eligible adults a vaccine six weeks early. But those offers won’t help protect people unless everyone turns up for their appointments.
“Over the next four weeks we will deploy more than half a million doses to help prevent a fresh wave of serious illness. Most of these will be second doses.
“We are speeding up that second dose programme to make sure people get the full protection the vaccine offers.
“Please come forward to take up your invitation for a vaccine and complete the full two-dose course.
“We are putting half a million vaccines into the programme over the next four weeks – the only way we will deliver those is if half a million people come forward to be vaccinated.
“The more people who are fully vaccinated the better our chances are of protecting ourselves and preventing the current situation from going backwards when we may need tighter restrictions to control increasing hospitalisations.
“Because, while the growth in coronavirus cases in Wales is now inevitable, the levels of harm associated with it are not.
“This all depends on the actions we take together including saying yes to both doses of the vaccine.
“Diolch o galon i chi gyd. I will now take questions from journalists.
“Because of the rapidly-changing situation in Wales the health minister and deputy chief medical officer will be here on Monday and I will be back on Friday to update you about the very latest situation and to answer questions.”