Over the last 36 hours, the Welsh Government have made a number of important announcements about updated COVID-19 restrictions and consequently, renewed financial business support.
As expected, the rate of infection in Wales has risen to a substantial 600 cases per 100,000 people. The Omicron variant is quickly becoming the dominant strain of virus and is expected to continue on this trajectory for a number of weeks.
However, two significant studies published by Imperial College London and Edinburgh University have shown that Omicron cases are between 40% and 66% less likely to result in hospitalisations, compared to the Delta variant.
Despite this and in order to protect vital services, the First Minister has reviewed the current COVID-19 restrictions and has made the decision to tighten them in response to the Omicron COVID-19 strain.
As of Boxing Day, Wales will implement Alert Level 2 measures for retail, workplaces, hospitality and leisure businesses.
They have been specifically tailored to tackle the threat of Omicron, which means:
- A general requirement of 2m social distancing in all premises open to the public and workplaces, where reasonable.
- The rule of six will apply to gatherings in regulated premises, such as hospitality, cinemas and theatres.
- All licensed premises will need to take additional measures to protect customers and staff, including table service and collecting contact details.
- Face coverings will be required in hospitality settings at all times apart from when seated.
- Large events will not be allowed indoors or outdoors. The maximum number of people who can gather at an indoor event will be 30 and 50 outdoors
- There will be an exception for team sports, up to 50 spectators will be able to gather, in addition to those taking part. There is also an exception for events involving children.
For important life events like weddings, civil partnerships, funerals and wakes, the numbers will be determined by the ability of the venue to manage social distancing and other reasonable measures. All guests will need to take a lateral flow test.
The Welsh Government has also decided to strengthen guidance on the mixing of individuals within residential households. To stay safe in our private homes, the First Minister is advising everyone follows five simple measures:
- Limit the number of people visiting your home.
- If people are visiting, make sure they take a lateral flow test in the morning, before they visit.
- Meeting outdoors is better than indoors. If you’re meeting indoors, do everything you can to make sure it’s well ventilated.
- Space out any visits.
- And don’t forget about social distancing and washing your hands.
They have also reinstated a separate offence for large gatherings – more than 30 people indoors or 50 people outdoors – in private homes and gardens.
It's important to note that these measures to be in place for the shortest possible time and they will be kept under constant review.
Emergency Business Financial Support
Yesterday the First Minister confirmed that the Welsh Government would be making £120m available for nightclubs, events, retail, hospitality, leisure, tourism businesses and their supply chains impacted by the move to alert level two.
The Business Wales website will be updated as the schemes role out and as quickly as possible. However, The funding will take the form of three elements.
Non Domestic Rates (NDR) linked grants of up to £6,000. Businesses will need to re-register their details through a quick and easy online process in order to receive their payments. Registration will open via local authority websites from the 10 January 2022.
Local Authorities will also deliver a discretionary fund to support sole traders, freelancers and businesses who don’t pay rates, with grants of £500 - £2000.
The third element is a reopening of the Welsh Government’s Economic Resilience Fund (ERF). On top of NDR based grants, this fund will see grants of up to £25,000 made available for severely impacted hospitality and leisure business – and their supply chains. As with previous ERF rounds, this will support businesses who have seen a reduction in their turnover of more than 60%.
An eligibility checker will be available on the Business Wales website early in the New Year with applications during the week commencing 17 January.
In addition to this, the Welsh Government has also decided to extend this support to non-essential retail so that smaller shops will be supported.
However, as a result of the new emergency support packages, the Welsh Government is withdrawing its £35m Business Support Fund, announced in November, in order to process emergency payments as soon as possible. All existing offers will be honoured.
This is an incredibly fast-paced and fluid situation with announcements, updates and decisions being made all the time. As ever, I will continue to update you as and when this happens.
But in the meantime, please have a safe and merry Christmas – and when asked to do so, please get your booster jab. Tenby, Carmarthen and Haverfordwest vaccination centres are now offering walkin appointments to all those over the age of 18 who have had their second dose 3+ months ago.
As ever, if you need assistance or have any questions, then please don't hesitate to contact me via email on Samuel.Kurtz@Senedd.Wales.