Mark Drakeford lifts lockdown in Wales

  • Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford says he will lift lockdown restrictions on the weekend
  • Coronavirus R number in the UK has declined drastically
  • Europe divided over the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine amid blood clot fears
  • England could approve a fourth vaccine – the Novavax vaccine
  • Euro to US dollar (EUR/USD) cross and the British pound to US dollar (GBP/USD) exchange rate trading on the backfoot

Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford said that country would be lifting its coronavirus lockdown restrictions over the weekend amid a significant decline in daily cases, hospitalisations and deaths.

Wales had stringent coronavirus restrictions imposed before Christmas after the R number jumped close to 2 in the run-up to the festive period.

The decision to lift lockdown restrictions in Wales comes as Public Health Wales (PHW) records 190 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, far lower than the thousands being reported in December and January.

According to PHW, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 has fallen below the critical 5% benchmark to 4.3% in the last seven days.

During a Welsh government press conference, Mark Drakeford thanked the public for the sacrifices they had made over the last three months as their actions have helped curb the spread of the virus and save lives.

In his Wales lockdown update, Mark Drakeford announced the following:

  • All outdoor sports facilities, such as golf courses and cricket clubs, will be permitted to reopen from March 13th
  • Up to four people from two households can meet and socialise in outdoor settings, including gardens under new “stay local” rules, which will replace the “stay at home” guidance
  • Single-person visits to care homes will be allowed from Saturday, March 13th
  • All primary school children and exam-year pupils will resume face-to-face classroom learning from March 15th. Other school children and college students are not expected to recommence face-to-face teaching until after the Easter break
  • Hair and barber salons can reopen shop from Monday, March 15th, on an appointment-only basis

While Mr Drakeford was quick to warn the public about “letting their guard down”, the Welsh COVID update was welcomed by many.

The news has also boosted optimism over the recovery outlook for Britain’s other devolved nations, including Scotland and England, where the prevalence of COVID-19 has fallen to its lowest level since September.

Coronavirus cases in Europe

COVID-19 cases in England following a downward trajectory

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), approximately one in 270 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the week ending March 6th, down from one in every 220 people the previous week.

On March 10th England recorded its lowest number of daily cases since August 31st 2020, and official data shows that the UK’s R number – the figure that determines the rate of transmission – now sits between 0.6 and 0.8, compared to 0.7 – 0.9 a week earlier.

The ONS also revealed the latest COVID growth rate has fallen between -7% and -4%, meaning the infection rate is contracting by 4% and 7% every day.

However, the ONS noted that while the coronavirus curve is diving, England’s infection rate is still higher than it was last summer. The percentage of people testing positive for new variants in Northern Ireland and Scotland could be rising.

But with the UK looking to ramp up its coronavirus vaccination programme to 500,000 a day in the coming week, this should ensure the downward trend remains intact across the country as lockdown restrictions begin to be lifted.

News of the UK accelerating its vaccination programme comes as several European countries suspend the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab in a “precautionary” move after a Danish woman develops blood clots and dies after receiving the vaccine.

AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine

Europe divided over the AstraZeneca vaccine

After Denmark raised safety concerns about death and illness in recipients of the AstraZeneca jab, nine European countries – Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Norway, suspended the rollout of the vaccine.

The decision to suspend the AstraZeneca vaccines has delivered yet another fatal blow to the EU’s laggard vaccination programme. Furthermore, with Europe facing a third wave of the virus, fears over more stringent lockdown restrictions being imposed across the bloc are rising.

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has dismissed claims that its vaccine is unsafe and has the backing of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which has insisted that there is no current link between the jab and the proposed health condition.

However, news of the side effect has prompted Thailand to delay its rollout out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca-manufactured vaccine. That said, Thailand’s Prime Minister insisted that they are not cancelling the rollout of the vaccine due to blood clot fears, but because the country has other vaccines it can rely on for the time being.

Meanwhile, German, Portuguese and French health officials have said they will continue to inoculate with AstraZeneca jab, stating that the safety concerns are unfounded.

Australia, Mexico and the Philippines will also continue to administer the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

The EU has also failed to secure additional doses of the vaccine from the US, and health chiefs have warned that the bloc is likely to fall short in supply over the coming months.

However, the European Commission said today that the bloc would be authorising a fourth COVID vaccine – one developed by Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, a branch of the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company – although it remains unclear when it will be ready.

The UK is also a step closer to approving the Novavax vaccine, which was proven to be 96% effective against preventing illness caused by the original strain of COVID-19.

The UK is set to approve the Novavax vaccine following late-stage trials

On Thursday, Novavax said its coronavirus vaccine was 96% effective in preventing cases caused by the original strain and had 100% efficacy against severe illness and death against the more contagious and lethal UK and South African variants.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock was delighted by the results, stating that it was “really encouraging” and would be a massive boost to the UK’s vaccine programme.

According to recent reports, the UK has secured 60 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, which is being manufactured in Stockton on Tees. If approved, the UK will have ramped up its vaccine supply to 217 million doses.

With the European countries facing a third COVID wave and lockdown restrictions being extended across the bloc, the Eurozone economy’s darkening outlook has seen the euro (EUR) come under pressure ahead of the weekend.

The euro to US dollar (EUR/USD) has retreated to the USD 1.19 level and could remain depressed in the week ahead if rising US yields continue to renew demand for the greenback.

Pound Sterling (GBP) has also tumbled against the US dollar (USD) on Friday, with the British pound to US dollar (GBP/USD) cross trading 0.4% lower at USD 1.3927 heading into New York trading hours.

While GBP/USD weakness is expected to be temporary, the currency pair could remain under pressure in the near term as rising bond yields reduce the appeal of riskier assets and commodity currencies.

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