Wales will have to adjust to a “new normal” which is likely to include Covid-19 “booster” jabs and people being more conscious about their own hygiene.
That was the message from Health Minister Vaughan Gething who said the country is likely to be under some form of restrictions for the rest of this year.
He said even if Wales’ vaccine rollout continues at encouraging pace, foreign holidays are unlikely to be a reality this summer as many parts of Europe remain under the grip of the virus.
When asked about when Wales is likely to return to normal, Mr Gething said during the press conference on Monday: “It’s really hard to give a forecast because, apart from anything else, we need to ask ourselves ‘what is normal?’
“The new normal may not be where we were 18 months ago in terms of people’s expectations and how they behave.
“Some of the changes could be positive for us. In terms of respiratory hygiene, some people may start to wear face coverings more normally, and I hope that we may see a greater adherence to the standard campaigns around the flu – catch it, bin it, kill it – with more people taking up the seasonal flu vaccine. Indeed, the new normal will likely include a Covid booster or catch-up programme. There will be many things that will be different.”
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The minister said it was important for the Welsh Government to be honest about the next few months and to manage people’s expectations.
“We’re unlikely to see an easing of all restrictions which will allow people to do whatever they want when they want,” he added.
“That isn’t just the view of the Welsh Government; that is the view of all the scientific advisors and experts right across the UK. Our own advisors here in the Technical Advisory Group, chief medical officers across the UK and the Sage group of scientific advisors who advise all governments in the UK – none of them are saying that you can have zero restrictions and zero harm from Covid at a certain point in the rest of this year.
“So we need to level with the public and be honest with them about the fact that some restrictions are likely at points in the year. It’s now about how fast we get through this next stage of vaccinating everyone, reducing harm, and then to look at what can be possible within a new normal as we move forward.”
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He said Wales could soon resemble last summer when restrictions were eased and people could travel across the country.
“If we cast our minds back to the end of last summer, we didn’t have zero restrictions in place but we could do a number of things together in a different way,” he added.
“That can be a more sustainable pattern for us as we get through this year – but I don’t expect to return to foreign holidays and travel any time soon, and I would be very surprised if I was taking a foreign holiday over the summer.
“We need to think about what’s happening here as well as what’s happening in other parts of the world. It’s a big risk for us to manage, but to manage them successfully does require honesty from the government and honesty about what the evidence is telling us.”
From today, supermarkets can sell non-essential items and garden centres can open in Wales. All non-essential retail is expected to reopen by April 12.
All primary and some secondary school children have returned to the classroom, while four people from two different households can now meet outdoors, including in gardens, as the stay-at-home rule was relaxed to a stay local one.
The Welsh Government released its new Coronavirus Control Plan on Friday afternoon and has confirmed that more industries could be reopened or considered for reopening if Covid cases rates and test positivity rates remained low. The plan contained details of when a huge range of restrictions could be lifted in Wales, beginning from April 22 and continuing over the following three weeks. Once completed Wales would officially have moved into level three.
The measures under consideration include:
Reopen gyms and leisure centres Reopen outdoor attractions Reopen outdoor hospitality Relaxing rules on weddings Reopen community centres Organised outdoor activities for up to 30 people and 15 for indoors Increased extended households (full details to be confirmed nearer the time).