Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced sweeping restrictions will come in from December 26 to fight the rise of the Omicron Covid variant
Wales will order pub and restaurant punters to obey the ‘rule of six’ from 6am on Boxing Day in a wave of new measures to fight the Omicron variant.
The six-person limit on each social group will apply in “regulated premises” in Wales – which includes all hospitality venues, cinemas and theatres.
Pubs and restaurants will need to seat people with table service only; collect customers’ contact details, and have two-metre social distancing between each table.
Face coverings will also be required for people walking around in pubs and restaurants – unlike in England where they are not necessary.
Elsewhere large events in Wales will be banned both indoors and outdoors, as the country reinstates ‘Alert Level 2’.
Indoor events of more than 30 people will be banned and outdoor events of more than 50 people will be banned.
There will be an exception for team sports, where up to 50 spectators will be able to gather, in addition to those taking part.
But the stringent limits will scupper any Boxing Day sports fixtures in Wales and put paid to any theatre or music performances.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford blasted Boris Johnson for not announcing similar measures in England, saying: “They see the data but they’re not prepared to act on it.”
He added: “I think the UK government is in a state of paralysis about all of this. We see the reports of infighting within the Cabinet.”
Mr Drakeford said: “We are now entering a really serious phase of the pandemic.
“Wales will reopen after Christmas – but in order to do so safely, we have to do everything we can to go on protecting ourselves and taking care of others.”
Other Welsh measures announced last week for shops and workplaces – plus the closure of nightclubs – will also come into force earlier than expected, on Boxing Day.
The number of people who can attend weddings or funerals in Wales will be determined by the ability of the venue to manage social distancing – and all guests will need to take lateral flow tests before attending.
Wales will not put legal limits on smaller gatherings in private homes or gardens – but “large gatherings” will be an offence. This will make gatherings of more than 30 people in private homes or 50 people in private gardens illegal.
Mr Drakeford said people could use an optional “rule of thumb”, of no more than three households gathering together at a time, if they wish.
£120m will be available for nightclubs, shops, pubs, restaurants, and leisure and tourism firms in Wales.
It comes hours after Nicola Sturgeon also announced tough new Covid curbs after Christmas – with mass gatherings banned in Scotland and pubs reverting to table service.
Football matches and other outdoor events in Scotland will be limited to only 500 spectators from December 26, meaning Boxing Day games will effectively be fan-free.
Indoor standing events will be limited to 100 people, with 200 punters allowed at indoor seated events – and outdoor events it will be 500 seated or standing.
Yet Boris Johnson has still not announced what measures he might bring in after Christmas in England.
There is speculation the Prime Minister could limit pubs and restaurants to outdoor service only, and crack down on indoor gatherings.
A Tory minister today admitted New Year’s Eve plans may be torn up in England – and said “we can’t really say” if a post-Christmas lockdown can be stopped.
Health minister Gillian Keegan said “obviously we have to keep that option open” to new restrictions as Covid cases soar – with 129 hospitalisations and 14 deaths with Omicron.
Ms Keegan suggested people planning New Year’s Eve parties should hold off sending invites until things are more certain. “Obviously there’s a risk there,” she admitted.
In Wales, new laws will allow workers to be fined £60 if they travel to work when they could be working from home.
Despite the law saying it is employees, rather than only employers, who could get fined, the Welsh First Minister said: “I want to lay this story to rest today – it is a story without substance.
“The rules we are introducing are exactly the rules we had earlier in the pandemic. They are not some new set of rules. They are designed to protect workers, not to penalise them.
“When these same rules were there earlier in the pandemic, no fines were issued at all when these rules were previously in place.
“They’re there to make sure that if a worker feels an employer is unreasonably expecting them to be in the workplace when they could work from home, that they are able to point to the regulations and make clear they would be committing an offence were they to do so.”
Mr Drakeford told a Welsh Government briefing cases of the Omicron variant had “risen sharply” since last week.
“We expect this trend to continue and to accelerate,” he said. “Omicron is here in Wales and it is spreading quickly.
“In England and Scotland, it has already overtaken Delta and become the dominant variant. That will soon become the case in Wales.
“Omicron has a doubling time of about two days. By Boxing Day, we will see many thousands of new cases across Wales every day.
“Already, people are off work sick, putting essential services under strain. This situation will get worse.”