Caution the watchword as First Minister plots lockdown exit

Rod Minchin, PA
·3-min read

The Welsh Government is to adopt a more cautious approach in leaving the Covid-19 lockdown due to the emergence of the highly-infectious Kent variant of the virus.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said gyms and leisure centres, outdoor attractions, outdoor hospitality, weddings and organised indoor and outdoor activities could be allowed to resume from April 22 if virus rates remain stable and vaccination numbers continue to rise.

The Welsh Government’s updated Coronavirus Control Plan sets out how and when Wales will move out of lockdown as restrictions are relaxed.

It also takes into account the risk of new, potentially vaccine-resistant variants of coronavirus being imported into Wales from people holidaying and travelling overseas.

But if there are strong signs of a growth in infections, it also sets out how the relaxations may need to be slowed, paused or reversed.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The coronavirus pandemic has turned all our lives upside down.

“Over the last 12 months everyone in Wales has made sacrifices to help protect themselves and their families and help bring coronavirus under control.

“This is a cruel virus. Far too many families have lost loved ones and unfortunately we know that many more people will fall seriously ill and sadly will die before the pandemic is over.

“But the way people and communities have pulled together across Wales, and followed the rules, has undoubtedly saved many more lives.

“We are now entering a critical phase in the pandemic. We can see light at the end of the tunnel as we approach the end of a long and hard second wave, thanks to the amazing efforts of scientists and researchers across the world to develop effective vaccines.

“Our amazing vaccination programme has made vaccines available to people in the most at-risk groups at incredible speed.”

Mr Drakeford said the uncertainty and unpredictability of the Kent variant meant the Welsh Government was adopting a more cautious approach to coming out of lockdown.

From Monday the ban on shops currently open selling non-essential items will be lifted and garden centres will reopen.

On March 27 the stay local requirement will be lifted, which will move Wales from alert level four to alert level three.

Ahead of the Easter holidays, from March 27, self-contained accommodation will be allowed to resume business, libraries will reopen and organised outdoor children’s activities resume.

It is planned from April 12 there will be a full return to schools, colleges and other education, that all shops will reopen and close contact services will resume.

Mr Drakeford said: “Just as we are rolling out vaccination, we are facing a very different virus in Wales today. The highly-infectious Kent variant is now dominant in all parts of Wales.

“This means the protective behaviours we have all learned to adopt are even more important than ever – getting tested and isolating when we have symptoms, keeping our distance from others, not mixing indoors, avoiding crowds, washing our hands regularly and wearing face coverings.

“The pandemic is not over. Spring and summer give us hope of more freedom as rates of infection fall and more people are vaccinated.

“But we must be careful. We can’t rush the process of relaxing restrictions and risk a resurgence of the virus.”

The plan will be revisited after every eligible adult has been offered a vaccination, which is scheduled to be by the end of July.

Welsh Conservatives leader Andrew RT Davies said: “The Welsh Government have quietly published this document late on a Friday night clearly to avoid scrutiny.

“And I can understand why. This isn’t a road map out of lockdown to recovery that gives confidence to businesses and people across Wales.

“What the people of Wales need right now is a plan. That’s why we would have published a road map, with windows of opportunity, showing a clear path to the light at the end of the Covid tunnel.