‘Last thing we want to do is cancel Christmas’, says Wales’ health minister

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People should prepare for more restrictions in the coming weeks, Wales’ health minister has said, as she insisted the Welsh Government does not want to “cancel Christmas”.

Eluned Morgan MS was questioned about whether families might be asked to spend the holiday apart if cases surge, at a government press briefing on Tuesday.

The minister said the Welsh Government is “currently not taking anything off the table”.

“The last thing we want to do is cancel Christmas. I think it is important we make that absolutely clear,” she told journalists at the briefing.

“But we are not currently taking anything off the table either, so the best thing for people to do, in order to see if we can remain in a situation where we are all able to see each other over Christmas is to take precautions now, so that we don’t see the kind of increasing rates that we are all expecting.

“Certainly, at the very minimum we will be asking people to take lateral flow tests before they mix at Christmas but that is something they should be undertaking already, particularly if they are meeting older and vulnerable people,” she added.

“I think people should plan because we don’t know what the situation will be at Christmas time. Taking the opportunity to do things early would be a sensible option, but we have no idea what Christmas will look like because it’s such an unpredictable situation.”

Ms Morgan urged people to come forward for their booster jab when called, saying a third dose was “vital” for maintaining protection against the virus.

There are currently 30 confirmed cases of Omicron in Wales, with the variant present in every health board area and expected to become the dominant strain by the end of the month.

The government’s aim is to offer all eligible adults the vaccine by the end of December, with appointments to be scheduled into the new year.

On Monday, 26,000 boosters were administered and the aim is to increase that figure in the coming weeks.

Ms Morgan said the focus of the NHS would shift towards vaccinating people over the next three weeks.

“The NHS will continue to provide essential services, emergency and urgent care. But we will be redeploying all available clinical staff to vaccination centres,” she said.

“We’ll be asking them to work in existing mass vaccination centres, which will be expanded to their maximum capacity and in new centres.”

“Expanding the booster programme is a massive undertaking. We’ll need to more than double the speed of the programme if we’re going to be successful,” she said.

“We need to be absolutely clear, what we are talking about is a three-week burst of activity and then hopefully we will be able to get back to some kind of normality.”

Health boards are currently reporting high levels of people not attending vaccination appointments, Dr Gill Richardson, from Public Health Wales, told the briefing.

Around 16,000 primary care supporters have been mobilised to carry out vaccinations, Ms Morgan said.

The minister criticised the UK Government for its booster campaign announcement on Sunday night, which is said to have been made without consulting many in the healthcare sector.

She said: “We do things very differently in Wales and work things out before we announce which is how we avoid the chaotic scenes you have seen in England yesterday.”

Asked about how the Welsh Government would ensure compliance from the public if new restrictions are introduced, she added: “I think in Wales what you need to do is look at the example set by the First Minister, rather than the example set in the UK Government by Boris Johnson.

“I think the public have understood the leadership of Mark Drakeford during this pandemic – it has been sure, secure and it has been very cautious and the people of Wales seem to have responded very positively to that.

“I would ask people to retain their faith in the First Minister as he navigates us all through a very difficult time over this coming Christmas.”

Ms Morgan said the situation with schools was under review after two councils in Wales, Denbighshire and Anglesey, have already decided to close their schools early on December 17, with students moved on to online learning for the last days of term.

Parents have raised concerns about whether the school holiday will be extended into January to lessen the risk of classroom transmissions, and Ms Morgan refused to rule out keeping schools closed.

Dr Richardson said the NHS Covid Pass which allows people in Wales to show their double vaccination status and test results may have to be reviewed in light of the ramping up of the booster programme.

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