A timetable for changes to Wales' Test Trace Protect service was yesterday published as part of wider plans to gradually move beyond the emergency response to the pandemic.
A new Social Care Transition Plan was also published yesterday, which will set out new arrangements for care homes between April and June.
The changes came as Wales yesterday took further cautious steps to relax some of the legal protections which have been in place for most of the pandemic - face coverings will no longer be a legal requirement in shops and on public transport and the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive will cease.
But the Welsh Government will continue to strongly advise that everyone self-isolates if they have COVID symptoms or test positive. The self-isolation payment will continue to be available until June. And strengthened guidance will advise face coverings are worn in all public places, including public transport, to help keep Wales safe.
The changes to Test Trace Protect are focused on protecting the most vulnerable, limiting their risk of infection and ensuring testing capacity is maintained to monitor outbreaks and detect any new variants.
The main changes to Test, Trace, Protect include:
- As of yesterday (28 March), people will be strongly advised to self-isolate if they have COVID. Self-isolation support payments of 500 will continue to be available until June.
- Wednesday (30 March) is the last day the public will be able to book a PCR test if they have symptoms.
- From Thursday (31 March) all PCR testing sites in Wales will close.
- Free lateral flow tests to support regular asymptomatic testing in workplaces will end on Thursday (31 March) except for health and social care workers.
- Free lateral flow tests for the public for regular asymptomatic testing will end on Thursday (31 March).
- From Friday (1 April) if you have COVID symptoms you should use a lateral flow test to check whether you have COVID. These can be ordered gov.uk/order-coronavirus-rapid-lateral-flow-tests or by calling 119. If you test positive you should report your results www.gov.uk/report-covid19-result and isolate for a minimum of five full days and take lateral flow tests on day five and day six (if both negative) before leaving isolation.
- From Friday (1 April) only people eligible for COVID-19 treatments will be able to order PCR tests to be done at home.
- Routine asymptomatic testing in childcare and education settings, except special education provision, will stop at the end of the term (8 April).
Changes to testing and social distancing in care homes are also being announced today, as well as a clear message that visiting should be welcomed and encouraged.
The Social Care Transition Plan, which has been agreed by the Deputy Minister for Social Services Julie Morgan after discussions with the sector, will advise care homes about the approach to take between April and June.
Frontline health and social care staff will continue to have access to free lateral flow tests to undertake twice weekly testing from organisations they work for.
Care home workers will no longer need to undertake weekly PCR tests. Unpaid carers who are caring for the clinically vulnerable will also be able to access lateral flow testing through their local authorities.
Care home providers should not be placing restrictions on visitor numbers or on the length and frequency of visits. If appointment systems are used they should facilitate rather than restrict visiting.
Visitors and visiting professionals should provide evidence of a negative lateral flow test result within the 24 hour period before the visit. Care homes will be provided with free tests so they can be given to visitors.
Face coverings continue to be a legal requirement in health and care settings for the next three weeks. It is advised that visitors should continue to wear masks/face coverings when in public areas of care homes and when moving through the care home, but may otherwise be removed.
The number of essential visitors' permitted during an outbreak will be increased to two and they may visit either separately or at the same time; the use of PPE will continue to be recommended for all staff working in social care settings but social distancing can be relaxed for social care staff, care home residents and people receiving care at home when there is no evidence of COVID-19 circulating.
If an incident or an outbreak occurs, social distancing could be re-introduced as a mitigating measure.
Health Minister Eluned Morgan yesterday said:
These changes are part of moving gradually away from the emergency response to the pandemic and beginning to live safely with coronavirus. We will continue to ensure we are ready and able to respond to any new variants or outbreaks as we step into this new future.
It is important people remember that coronavirus has not gone away. Everything we do - all the small things we have learned to do to keep ourselves safe - become even more important now, especially self-isolating if we have symptoms or a positive test result.
If we continue to work together, we can keep each other safe and keep Wales safe.
Deputy Minister for Social Service Julie Morgan yesterday said:
The Social Care Transition Plan shows new arrangements for care homes as we cautiously adjust our pandemic response. We have spoken to groups across the sector and are delighted that we can not only ease restrictions around visiting, but further encourage them to take place.
We appreciate how hard the last two years have been for families affected by these restrictions, with many not able to see their loved ones as much as they would like to. We would like to thank them for supporting our efforts to keep the most vulnerable safe and hope we can all look forward to a more positive future.