First Minister Mark Drakeford has outlined exactly what he must see before relaxing restrictions to allow fans to attend sporting events in Wales this year.

Since Boxing Day, professional sports matches in Wales have been taking place behind closed doors, and that situation is set to continue for some time yet.

In light of that, the Welsh Rugby Union are now concerned about the prospect of playing a second consecutive Six Nations, which kicks off in less than a month, without fans in attendance.

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Current Welsh Government modelling suggests the peak of the Omicron wave is 10 days to two weeks away. It is also predicted that a rapid decline in cases will follow around the end of January and beginning of February.

The First Minister confirmed that until we begin to see case numbers go down, then restrictions will remain in place.

A graph shown during his Friday briefing showed cases are predicted to have dropped dramatically around early February time, perhaps being less than half the 10,000 daily cases currently being seen.

The Welsh Government's latest graph
The Welsh Government’s latest graph

With Wales’ opening home game against Scotland scheduled for February 12, it seems any decision could go down to the wire.

Wales’ other home matches, against France and Italy, are not scheduled until March, meaning they look much more likely to go ahead with spectators.

When asked what must happen before he would allow fans at sports gatherings, Mr Drakeford said: “We have to see the tide turn on the Omicron wave.

“Then if the model is accurate and we see the numbers coming down reasonably rapidly, then we will be in a position to see whether it is safe to see greater social mixing.

“The issue under the microscope is whether we can do that [allow fans into stadiums] safely, whether the number of people falling ill with the virus is so high that adding further to that risk would be a responsible thing to do.

“We won’t know that – I know it’s really difficult when you’re organising a major event – for a couple of weeks.”

Home games against Scotland, France and Italy are worth in the region of £20 million to the WRU. Losing out on that kind of revenue will be tough to stomach, particularly as fans are permitted to attend events in England.

To date, there has been no indication of what financial support would be available to them should they miss out on the money that a sold-out Principality Stadium generates.

That is why the WRU have been exploring the possibility of staging home matches across the River Severn, where fans can attend.

Mr Drakeford sounded confident, though, that the WRU would not take that step but insisted he did not have an issue with them exploring their options.

“Of course we would all prefer to be in a position where the Six Nations could go ahead with people watching the game here in Wales,” he said.

“That is not a matter of dispute between anybody.

“I make no criticism of the WRU for exploring all the options that are available to them.

“They are a business and as a responsible business it seems to me that they are bound to look at all the possibilities.

“Whether they will choose to go ahead and play games elsewhere, with the undoubted risks that would bring, is a very debatable question.

“Whether I’d have any problem with them looking at the options – no I don’t. I think that is perfectly legitimate for them as a multi-million pound organisation.”

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The restrictions, of course, extend beyond rugby.

Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County and Wrexham football clubs will all be feeling the restrictions. Cardiff Devils also have a slew of home games coming later this month.

When it was put to the First Minister that fans of football clubs cannot attend home matches but can travel to away games, he said: “I’ve been asked many questions over recent weeks about do I think people do this or that.

“It’s not for the Government to micromanage the decisions each one of us has to make in our own lives.

“We ask people to think carefully and consciously about decisions.

“If they choose to travel elsewhere, we ask they do it in a way that maximises the chances to stay safe.

“The basic advice is that we are in the middle of the fastest growing wave of Covid that we have seen in this whole pandemic with a highly transmissible form of the virus which is making many people ill, driving more people into hospital and people die from the omicron variant.

“That is the context within which people make their individual decisions.”

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