Mark Drakeford launched an astonishing tirade at Boris Johnson over Covid restrictions today as he vowed to ignore clear evidence that the worst of the Omicron wave has passed in order to keep tough restrictions in place in Wales.
The First Minister branded England an international ‘outlier’ in resisting tighter curbs and accused the PM of overseeing a ‘politically paralysed’ administration that had tied his hands.
It came as he used a press conference to insist that Wales’ tough Covid restrictions on bars and mass events must stay in place due to an Omicron ‘storm’ breaking over the nation.
As the rest of the UK eases restrictions he warned of ‘a difficult month ahead’, despite admitting that the variant may not be as severe as previous waves.
But then, in a rant at Mr Johnson, he added: ‘In England, we have a Government that is politically paralysed, with a Prime Minister who is unable to secure an agreement through his Cabinet to take the actions that his advisers have been telling him ought to have been taken.
‘And even if he could get his Cabinet to address them, he can’t get his MPs to agree them.
‘The outlier here is not Wales. Wales is taking action, as is Scotland, as is Northern Ireland, and as are countries right across Europe, and right across the globe.
‘The one country that stands out as not taking action to protect its population is England.’
But his outburst came as a senior disease expert said a surge in the number of severe Omicron cases and deaths is unlikely to be seen in the current wave.
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, chairman of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, University of Cambridge, said: ‘The big severing is between really severe outcomes and that there’s still no sign of a serious increase in intensive care, and ventilation, and in deaths.
‘We would have expected to see that by now in London and elsewhere – so that is the really reassuring thing.
‘I think we can guarantee that over this wave, as we endure the next few weeks, what we’re not going to see is a big surge in very severe outcomes.’
As the rest of the UK eases some restrictions Mr Drakeford warned of ‘a difficult month ahead’ for the NHS, despite admitting that the variant may not be as severe as previous waves.
And at a press conference today he cast fresh doubt over whether Wales’s home Six Nations Games would go ahead with spectators present.
NHS figures released today show there were 13,045 beds occupied by coronavirus sufferers on January 4, of which 4,845 were not mainly sick with the disease. It means only six in 10 inpatients are primarily ill with Covid now compared to more than 80 per cent with Delta
Experts say there is reason to believe that incidentals will continue to rise as the variant pushes England’s infection rates to record highs, with one in 15 people estimated to have had Covid on New Year’s Eve
The share of so-called ‘incidental’ cases was even bigger in Omicron hotspot London , where 45 per cent of ‘Covid patients’ were not primarily in hospital for the virus
Sir David said in December the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned that, if only Plan B measures were adhered to, hospital admissions would be likely to exceed 3,000 a day.
However, he said that, while daily cases are currently above 2,000, ‘with luck’ they may not go above 3,000, and the main change has been that people have ‘voluntarily been very cautious about their behaviour’.
It came after Mr Drakeford has earlier said: ‘The one country that stands out as not taking action to protect its population is England.
‘The real question is, why is England such a global outlier, in the way in which governments elsewhere are attempting to protect their populations from coronavirus?
‘The political contrast between Wales and England is this: here in Wales we have a Government that is capable of acting and determined to act when it is necessary to protect our population.’
Mr Johnson and a number of Conservative MPs mocked Wales’s restrictions during a House of Commons session in Parliament on Thursday.
The Prime Minister called the measures ‘baroque eccentricities’, and former business secretary Andrea Leadsom described them as ‘bonkers’.
Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant said it was ‘no more than political posturing’.
Alert level 2 restrictions remain in Wales, including wearing face coverings indoors, groups in public places such as restaurants limited to six people, and working from home if possible.
Indoor events of more than 30 people or outdoor events for more than 50 people are not allowed.
Mr Drakeford said 994 people with Covid-19 are being treated in Welsh hospitals – a rise of 43 per cent compared with last week and the highest number since last March – while around 40 are in critical care, the majority of whom are unvaccinated.
He said Omicron is putting significant pressure on the NHS, due to rising hospital admissions and staff absences, but denied it is ‘overwhelmed’.
The latest data from Public Health Wales shows another 38 people have died from coronavirus; however, Mr Drakeford said those are likely to have been from the Delta variant.
The Welsh Rugby Union is exploring contingency plans which could involve Wales playing their Six Nations home games in England.
Last week Wales eased self-isolation rules a week earlier than planned to follow England’s lead and slash the quarantine period for people with Covid from 10 days to seven.
But it still has a 50-person limit on outdoor events, meaning sporting events are stuffed. A maximum of six people are allowed to meet in pubs, cinemas and restaurants and a total of 30 people allowed at indoor events, which will affect other fans watching from afar.
Wayne Pivac’s side hosted their four 2021 autumn matches in front of capacity crowds at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
Playing the three games with no crowds would be disastrous for the WRU who are reeling from the devastating financial impact caused by the pandemic.
The WRU lost out on revenue of close to £14million last year when their Six Nations home ties against Ireland and England were held in an empty Principality Stadium.
With three home matches this year, a repeat scenario is unthinkable for chief executive Steve Phillips. It is also unlikely any Six Nations games will be postponed due to the packed rugby calendar.
WRU sources have indicated to Sportsmail that they would be foolish not to be looking at all the available options. And that is why the possibility of moving games to England is being considered once again despite the severe logistical challenges it would bring.
Mr Drakeford said no decisions have been made about whether the game against Scotland on February 12 can go ahead with spectators.
Wales are also due to host France on March 11 and Italy on March 19.
He said: ‘We have to see the tide turn on the Omicron wave, we have to manage our way through the very difficult weeks that follow while numbers are still rising,’ he said.
‘If the model is accurate, we see those numbers coming down – reasonably rapidly as they have risen – then we will be in a position to see whether it is safe to allow greater social mixing.
‘That’s what we are looking at … the decisions about where to play matches are in the end for the Welsh Rugby Union to make, not the Welsh Government to make, but I just want to put on record my appreciation of the way the Welsh Rugby Union has conducted its business throughout the whole of the pandemic.’