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More outdoor mixing at large-scale events is to be allowed in Wales as coronavirus restrictions are eased in the coming weeks – meaning the Six Nations can go ahead as planned.
First Minister Mark Drakeford outlined the plan for returning to alert level zero during a press conference in Cardiff on Friday.
Since Boxing Day, Wales has been on alert level two, which includes measures such as mask-wearing in all public venues, the two-metre rule, and the rule of six in hospitality settings. Nightclubs have also been forced to shut.
However, current data shows falling case numbers and a decline in the number of patients in critical care beds.
The move to alert level zero is expected to be phased, with restrictions on outdoor activities being removed first.
From Saturday, the number of people who can be present at outdoor events will rise from 50 to 500.
And from January 21, Wales will move to alert level zero for all outdoor activities, which means there will be no limits on the number of people who can take part in them.
Under the plan, spectators will be able to return to outdoor sporting events, including the Six Nations rugby, though Covid passes will be required.
Pressure had been mounting from sports organisations and fans, with many fearing Six Nations matches would have to be held across the border in England.
The Welsh Government said that, if the downward trend continues, then alert level zero will apply to all indoor activities from January 28.
Nightclubs would be able to reopen and working from home would no longer be a legal requirement.
Covid passes would be required for entry to nightclubs, events, cinemas, concert halls and theatres.
The rule of six, table service, and two-metre physical distancing rule would be scrapped for hospitality.
Mr Drakeford defended having stricter restrictions in Wales than England, and said the modelling was correct in showing a very sharp rise in infection rates and then a rapid decline.
“The measures we took in Wales were both necessary and effective,” he said.
“That gap in the experience between Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and that rapidly rising and continuing rise in England.
“What does that gap mean? Well, that gap means thousands more people falling ill, more people being admitted to hospital more people unable to be in work because they were ill with coronavirus.
“That gap is a real gap and it’s a real gap making an impact in real people’s lives.
“The actions we’ve taken in Wales to flatten the curve to bring it to an end more quickly, I think have paid real dividends here and thoroughly justify the actions that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have taken.”
The self-isolation rules for all those who test positive for Covid and the face covering rules for most public indoor places will remain in force after January 28.
The three-weekly cycle of reviews would be reintroduced from February 10, when the Welsh Government will consider all remaining measures at alert level zero.
Welsh Conservative Senedd leader Andrew RT Davies accused the Welsh Government of “overreacting” to the threat posed by Omicron and said they were the “outlier” within the UK.
“We’ve been calling for a roadmap out of restrictions from Labour ministers and I’m pleased they’ve finally listened to calls from the Welsh Conservatives,” he said.
“Despite the detailed scientific evidence from South Africa, Labour ministers clearly overreacted to Omicron, and that has caused significant pain and anguish for families and businesses in Wales.
“Sadly, Labour have left Wales as an outlier in the UK with the strictest restrictions when it comes to sport, outdoor activity and hospitality.
“The British booster campaign has been a resounding success and, as such, Labour should now move swiftly and remove restrictions as we get on the road to recovery and as a nation learn to live with Covid-19.”