There are “early positive signs” that Wales’ firebreak lockdown has curbed the spread of coronavirus in the country, the First Minister has said.
Mark Drakeford said recent high numbers of new cases were beginning to drop as Wales began life under new national measures from Monday.
The end of the 17-day lockdown means groups of up to four people can now meet up in cafes, pubs and restaurants while shops, gyms, hairdressers and places of worship can also reopen.
Supermarkets can again sell non-essential items while people will only be allowed to meet up inside homes with members of one other household if they have joined into a “bubble”.
Mr Drakeford told Monday’s Welsh Government press briefing the all-Wales level had now dropped from 250 cases per 100,000 people to just under 220 cases – and stressed it was “vital” people continued to work from home.
Mr Drakeford said: “We won’t know the full impact for a couple of weeks yet but there are some tentative early positive signs, and those give us some hope.
“Mobility data shows large increases in people staying at home during the firebreak – back to the levels last seen in May.
“It is vital that working from home as much as possible continues beyond today.”
Mr Drakeford said rates in Merthyr Tydfil – which briefly became the worst-hit area of the UK last week with 741 cases per 100,000 people – had now fallen to around 520.
He said: “This is still too high, but an important and encouraging fall.”
But the number of people being admitted to hospital was continuing to rise, the Welsh Labour leader said, adding there were now more than 1,400 Covid-related cases in Welsh hospitals, higher than during the April peak of the virus.
And he said high numbers of deaths would continue “until we get coronavirus under control”.
As the firebreak ends, it’s important to remember coronavirus is still with us.
We must all learn to live as safely as possible.
There are new rules in place to help us do this, but we all have a responsibility to think about what we should do, not what we can do. pic.twitter.com/YMcUrKw5Dq
— Welsh Government (@WelshGovernment) November 9, 2020
Wales’ new national measures would be reviewed in a fortnight, he said, stressing that the country’s exit from the firebreak needed to be “careful and cautious so that we can maximise its impact.”
Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government has not “ruled out” taking targeted local action if areas of the country saw a continuing rise in virus cases, saying ministers had access to a “menu of actions that could be taken at a local level if necessary”.
“If there are local flare-ups then we will draw on that repertoire, work with local players, local authority leaders, the local public health teams and so on, and then calibrate the local action to the nature of the problem that is being faced,” Mr Drakeford said.
Andrew RT Davies, the Welsh Conservatives’ shadow health minister, later said he welcomed the news hyperlocal restrictions would be considered.
He said: “Nobody wants to see further lockdowns, but if they are to be imposed again, then they have to be targeted and based on ultra-accurate and localised data, which city-wide testing could provide.”
Mr Drakeford said the idea of mass whole-town testing, like what is being trialled in Liverpool, was “attractive” and that Welsh ministers would “look to see ways in which we can learn from that experience and put it to work in Wales”.
Addressing scenes of queues of people lining up outside reopened stores in Cardiff city centre, Mr Drakeford said he had been told Monday’s return of retail was being “well managed”.
“The reports that I’ve had are that it’s being well managed, that these are retail outlets that have made a big effort to make sure that queues are managed, that people coming in and out of shops are properly controlled and that people themselves are doing all the things they can do in observing social distancing and being respectful of other people,” Mr Drakeford said.
“Our chief medical officer often says that it’s what people do when they get somewhere, rather than the fact that they’re going shopping by itself, that is not necessarily a difficulty.
“It’s how people behave when they make those choices and provided people are behaving in a way that does not put themselves and others at risk, then I think the fact that people want to do some things today that they’ve not been able to do for over two weeks wouldn’t be that surprising to anyone.”
On Monday, Public Health Wales reported a further 931 cases of coronavirus in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 60,912.
Another eight deaths were also reported, taking the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 2,041.