Another lockdown in Wales is highly unlikely but not inconceivable because of the potential threat posed by coronavirus variants, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.
The Welsh Labour leader warned the risk of mutations developing which vaccinations are less effective against means “it simply doesn’t make sense” to rule out reimposing the highest level of restrictions.
The Delta variant first identified in India is now the dominant strain of Covid-19 among new infections in Wales, with most cases attributed to person-to-person transmission in the community as opposed to international travel into the country.
Mr Drakeford is delaying the further easing of Wales’s Covid restrictions for four weeks in response to a spike in cases of the variant to see if they lead to increased pressure on the NHS.
Asked if he can rule out a future lockdown if the situation in Wales worsens later in the year, he told the PA news agency: “I’m not willing to say that it is completely inconceivable. I think it is highly unlikely.
“The position today is very different to when we started to unlock things after the Christmas and new year period. All our schools are open, all our shops are open, you can travel anywhere in Wales, you can go for a drink, you can go for a meal, you can be down the caravan.
“When we spoke to focus groups earlier this week, what most people told us is that most of the things that they wanted to do, they are now able to do. What they are most anxious about is not losing the ground that we have gained.
“A pause now is an important move to help us to do just that. Not to add more risk into what are now inherently more risky circumstances because of the Delta variant, and therefore add to the risk that we would have to move back from the level of easements we currently have.
“We are very, very focused on not needing to do that.
“Can I say it’s absolutely impossible (to rule out a lockdown), given the changes that we see, given the risk that another new variant could arise at any time anywhere in the world that might be even less amenable to the current vaccination.
“It simply doesn’t make sense to be as definitive as that.”
Later at the Welsh Government’s press briefing in Cardiff, Mr Drakeford said the continued success of Wales’s vaccination programme would mean less chance of the country having to return to tighter restrictions.
“The more people we can vaccinate, the stronger the defence will be and the more certain we will become that we don’t need to put anything in reverse and indeed we’ll be able to move even further forward,” he said.