Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed there is unlikely to be any change to Covid-19 rules in the next two weeks, raising further doubts about the country’s ability to host Six Nations matches with crowds next month.
On Boxing Day, new regulations designed to stop the spread of the Omicron variant were introduced in Wales. They included professional sports teams being forced to play behind closed doors.
Sportsmail revealed this week that the Welsh Rugby Union had looked into contingency plans which could involve Wayne Pivac‘s side moving their three 2022 Six Nations home games to England where supporters remain able to attend matches subject to proving vaccination status or a negative lateral flow test.
Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford has said a reduction in restrictions in Wales looks unlikely
Since Boxing Day, professional sports teams are required to play games behind closed doors
The WRU’s preference is to play at Principality Stadium in Cardiff with capacity crowds, although the prospect of that happening for their game with Scotland on February 12 now looks slim.
‘I don’t anticipate being able to move away from the level of restrictions we have in place over the next fortnight,’ Drakeford said of Wales’ rocketing Omicron rates. ‘We cannot expect the numbers to turn the corner and come down for the next 10 days to two weeks.
‘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, we will be in a position to see whether it is safe to see greater social mixing. As soon as we believe it is safe to ease protections, that is what we will do.
‘We will want to do it at the earliest and safest opportunity.’
The WRU lost out on revenue of close to £14million last year when their Six Nations home ties against Ireland and England had to be held inside an empty Principality Stadium (pictured)
Sportsmail understands the WRU and other sporting bodies in Wales remain hopeful the current Covid-19 rules will be relaxed early in February.
But at this stage, it remains uncertain whether that will happen before the Wales and Scotland game with there now a growing possibility the match will be played in an empty Principality Stadium.
Such a scenario would cost the WRU – which has already been hit hard financially by the pandemic – in the region of £7million.
Wales stars Dan Biggar, Louis Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams and Josh Adams have all made it plain they do not want to play behind closed doors.
‘I make no criticism of the WRU for exploring all the options available to them,’ Drakeford said.
‘They are a multi-million-pound business and as a responsible business they are bound to look at all the possibilities.
Wales’ Dan Biggar has already expressed his desire for crowds to be allowed for Six Nations
‘Whether they will choose to go ahead and play games elsewhere, with the undoubted risks that would bring, is a very debatable question.
‘Of course, we would all prefer to be in a position where the Six Nations could go ahead with people watching the games here in Wales. That is not a matter of dispute. The issue under the microscope is whether we can do that safely.’
The WRU remain in constant dialogue with the Welsh Government, but a decision on whether the Scotland game in round two will take place with fans or not is set to go down to the wire.
Such a scenario is poised to have a big impact on supporters with tickets selling strongly given Wales are defending Six Nations champions.
Wales’ two further home games in the 2022 Championship with France and Italy are scheduled for Match 11 and 19 respectively.
It is hoped that by then, Omicron rates will definitely have lowered so that fans can be allowed.