People who test positive will now be able to end their isolation early if they later produce two negative lateral flow tests as of tomorrow.
The cabinet also agreed to loan four million lateral flow tests to NHS England while thanking everyone who has helped deliver the vaccination programme to date.
Since the last formal review before Christmas, the cabinet has moved from three-week reviews to weekly reviews in response to the rapidly evolving “public health situation” as the Omicron variant continues to spread.
In a statement following today’s review, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Today, a review has taken place of the public health situation over the Christmas period. It has deteriorated in the last week as the omicron wave has arrived. We have seen a marked rise in cases of coronavirus – the majority are likely to be caused by the omicron variant.
“This is similar to the position in the rest of the UK. Over the last few days, record numbers of infections have been identified and the overall seven-day case rate has risen to more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 people across Wales.
“Cases are highest among 20 to 29-year-olds and 30 to 39-year-olds. We are also starting to see the cases rates increase in the older age groups.”
The First Minister said that while hospitalisation remains lower than in the previous Coronavirus waves, he said it is starting to increase.
As of yesterday, 446 Covid-19 patients were reported in Welsh hospitals which is almost double what it was the previous week.
He said: “The overall Covid-19 bed occupancy has grown by a third over the Christmas period. This is a combination of both omicron and delta cases.
“The number of confirmed Covid-19 patients in hospital has also increased to 446 on 29 December. This is 49% higher than the same day last week. We have not seen a rise in the number of Covid-19 patients needing critical care.
“Enormous efforts have been made to provide booster vaccines to all eligible adults in the run-up to Christmas – almost 1.6m people have received a booster.”
“The concentrated attention on vaccination has also led to increases in the number of people coming forward for first and second vaccinations in December. It is never too late to be vaccinated in Wales.”
Mr Drakeford, who is encouraging people across Wales to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others, also took time to thank everyone who has helped in the vaccination effort
“I want to place on record my thanks to all those who have given up their time this Christmas to help protect others, and to all those people, in every part of Wales who have made coming forward for vaccination their priority too.
“If you have not yet had your booster please make it a priority. It is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself against this awful virus.
“Demand for PCR tests and for lateral flow devices continues to rise and has reached new record levels. Wales has a significant stock of lateral flow tests, sufficient to meet our needs over the weeks ahead.
“The Health Minister has agreed today to loan a further four million such tests to the English NHS, bringing that mutual aid to 10 million lateral flow tests.”
As Wales moved to Alert Level 2 on Boxing Day, residents across Wales have been unable to order lateral flow tests online for delivery while others have struggled to get them from pharmacies.
However Mr Drakeford said that it is the responsibility of the UK Government and that they are working together to make more tests available.
“Distribution of lateral flow test kits through home delivery and pharmacies remains the responsibility of the UK Government and we are working with it, as it increases the capacity of the system,” he said.
“Wales moved to alert level two on Boxing Day. The public health situation remains very volatile and the Christmas period is always one when collecting and analysing data is challenging.
“Against this background, the outcome of the review is that we will continue with the current arrangements for alert level two protections in Wales, while continuing to closely monitor the situation.”
The Welsh Government has said that as of New Year’s Eve tomorrow, people who have tested positive for Covid-19 can reduce their isolation period from ten to seven days as long as they produce a negative result from lateral flow tests on both days six and seven.
The tests have to be taken 24 hours apart and if either of the tests produce a positive result, the isolation period will remain at ten days.
“The Health Minister published a written statement on 23 December about reducing the self-isolation period from 10 to seven days, on the basis of two negative lateral flow tests taken on days six and seven, from 5 January.
“We will introduce this change tomorrow - 31 December. We are bringing the change forward because the balance of harms has changed and the rising number of cases has begun to have an impact on the number of people, in critical jobs, who are excluded from the workplace because of self-isolation.”
The cabinet has said it will continue to review the position in Wales on a weekly basis meaning that the next review will take place next week - it will be the first review of 2022.
Mr Drakeford finished his statement by saying: "Given the seriousness of the threat the virus poses, it remains vitally important that each one of us continues to take all those simple precautions which will help to slow down the spread of the virus and the risks it poses to all of us.
"This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should Members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.”
The Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister MS Russell George welcomed today’s changes to the isolation period and joined Mr Drakeford in thanking NHS professionals and volunteers.
However he also said the Labour Government need to “lead by example” by publishing evidence before they make decisions.
Mr George, who is the MS for Montgomeryshire, said: “Along with the Health Minister, I extend our enormous gratitude to all the NHS professionals and volunteers who have spent the Christmas period looking after us in hospital, and keeping the vaccine programme rolling out. Your dedication and commitment will not be forgotten.
“We welcome the changes announced today that sees the self-isolation reduced by three days to enable those critical workers, to keep the economy turning and to maintain staff levels in the NHS. It is a shame that the Labour Government rejected this change last week but at least they have seen the evidence and changed their minds.
“However, the Labour Government needs to lead by example and publish the evidence they are receiving before making decisions, so that we can thoroughly scrutinise their actions. It is not good enough that they want to impose restrictions, which do not make sense, without showing us this crucial evidence to justify them.”