Wales could allow small food festivals and small live music and arts events to reopen next week if the Indian coronavirus variant poses no need to pause relaxing restrictions, Mark Drakeford has said.
The First Minster said there were now 26 cases of the mutated strain of Covid-19 across Wales, up from 17 on Thursday, with each case associated with foreign travel as opposed to community transmission.
Scientists believe the Indian variant may be more transmissible than the UK variant first detected in Kent last year, and may be linked to India’s second wave.
With indoor hospitality and entertainment venues due to reopen in Wales on Monday, the country’s chief medical officer Frank Atherton has advised to pause further easements until more is known about the risk the variant poses.
Mr Drakeford said he had planned to reopen “food festivals that you see held in very local communities, to small events like live music or arts”.
He said the UK Government’s Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) group was expected to give its advice later on Friday, with the Welsh Governments own scientific advisers reporting back “very shortly”.
Mr Drakeford told the PA news agency: “The Indian variant was emerging as an issue of concern just as we were having that discussion.
“If the advice is that we can move ahead safely, then we don’t have to wait three weeks and we’ll be able to do that as early as next week.
“If the advice is that we need to pause a bit longer while we get a better understanding of the scale of transmission of the Indian variant, particularly across our border, then we’ll have to do that.”
Cases of the variant in Wales were scattered across the county, Mr Drakeford said, with individuals having travelled “from India in particular, but there are probably some cases from the broader subcontinent”.
Mr Drakeford said Wales was “in a very good position already” with regard to vaccinating vulnerable groups, with over 90% of care home residents, 91% of people aged over 70 having received a second dose.
But he said the country could calibrate the vaccination programme to take account of a new variant “if that was sensible”.
At Friday’s Welsh Government press briefing, Mr Drakeford said if the variant did prove to be a cause for concern it would “inevitably slow down our ability to go on lifting restrictions”.
He also confirmed that though international travel would be allowed from Monday under a traffic light system, the Government’s concerns about reimporting the virus meant it would advise people not to travel abroad during 2021.
“If ever there was a year to holiday at home and enjoy everything that the wonders of Wales has to offer then this surely is the year to do just that,” he said.
Mr Drakeford said he did not “wish to make anybody feel guilty” about holidaying abroad, but wanted to ensure “people make those decisions with their eyes open”.
He also said it would be up to individuals to “weigh up the risks” if deciding whether to attend any of Wales’ delayed Euro 2020 football games in Azerbaijan and Italy during the summer.