Wales considering reopening tourism industry for Easter, Mark Drakeford says

Adam Hale, PA Wales Correspondent
·5-min read

Wales will consider allowing its tourism industry to partially reopen in time for Easter if the country’s coronavirus situation continues to improve, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

Self-contained accommodation including hotels and bed & breakfasts with room service, as well as caravans and lodges, will be considered for reopening following the next review of restrictions.

On Friday, Wales’ lockdown rules were extended for another three weeks to allow a safe return to school for the country’s youngest pupils from Monday, but Mr Drakeford said further easing of restrictions were under consideration in time for Easter, including welcoming back tourism.

Welsh Government ministers would use the same definitions for “self-contained accommodation” as when tourism returned following the first lockdown, which Mr Drakeford said the industry “made a real success of”.

He told the PA news agency: “We will use the same definition as we did last year.

“We reopened the tourism economy starting with self-contained accommodation last year, and I think the industry made a real success of that.

“It did include, for example, hotels where people can be entirely self-contained.

“That’s the test, that you have to have facilities that are not shared with other people.

“Provided that is the case, then that is what we will be talking about.

“But Easter is a long way off, and these are very preliminary discussions in the hope of, providing things continue to improve, we’d be in a position to begin the first steps of reopening that industry.”

Despite potentially lifting Wales’ travel ban into the country to allow families to visit one another for Easter, Mr Drakeford said he would look to protect areas with low levels of Covid-19 from those with high levels.

He said: “I understand how important Easter is for families.

“The issue of travel for me has never been about borders.

“It’s about making sure that we protect areas where there is very low transmission from travel from areas where there is very high rates of transmission.”

The Flying Scotsman passes Conwy Castle, North Wales (Peter Byrne/PA)
The Flying Scotsman passes Conwy Castle, North Wales (Peter Byrne/PA)

Stay-at-home restrictions in Wales could be eased as early as in three weeks, he said, due to falling numbers of cases and reduced pressures on hospitals.

In the meantime, from Saturday minor changes to rules will include allowing up to four people from two households being allowed to exercise together outdoors, but only if they live in the same area and begin their exercise “from their own front doors” and return home.

Some elite athletes will also be allowed back into training, while licensed wedding venues other than registry offices and faith settings, which can already carry out weddings, will be allowed to operate to reopen.

Care home visiting rules will also be eased to allow more visits to take place.

But Mr Drakeford delivered bad news for gymgoers, saying there were no plans to reopen gyms in Wales at present due to advice from scientists that the Kent variant of Covid made doing so “more challenging”.

He told PA: “The advice that I have seen from our scientific community is that the Kent variant, which is so much more transmissible, makes gyms a more challenging sector to reopen than before the Kent variant took hold.

“So I’m afraid there isn’t a prospect that gyms and leisure centres and so on will open by the middle of March, and it may be some while after that before we can safely return to doing so, at least indoors and in the conventional way.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford  (Ben Birchall/PA)
First Minister Mark Drakeford (Ben Birchall/PA)

From Monday, foundation phase children below the age of seven will resume face-to-face learning in class, having been prioritised due to being least likely to transmit coronavirus and having greater difficulties with remote learning.

There will also be returns for some vocational learners, including apprentices, to colleges in order to access training or workplace environments for their practical qualifications.

But all primary school pupils as well as older age groups in years 11 and 13, who have exams, could return from March 15 if the country’s public health situation continues to improve.

The return for older primary and secondary schools is expected to use blended learning, with pupils only in school “some of the time” by mixing face-to-face teaching with online lessons.

The next review of regulations in three weeks’ time will also consider reopening non-essential retail and close contact services like hair salons.

Levels of Covid-19 in Wales are now at their lowest since the end of September last year, with the country’s seven-day case rate on Thursday now at 84 per 100,000 people, while one in three adults have received a vaccine.

Pembroke Castle, south Wales (David Jones/PA)
Pembroke Castle, south Wales (David Jones/PA)

Andrew RT Davies, Senedd leader for the Welsh Conservatives, welcomed Mr Drakeford’s announcements on Friday, particularly the return of more children to the classroom.

“However, I do regret the lack of additional financial support and a roadmap to recovery for businesses across Wales who are frantically trying to plan their survival,” Mr Davies said.

“I acknowledge specific dates would not be possible but windows of opportunity could have been provided for firms who need to prepare both financially and logistically.”

Mr Davies said “more could still be done” to promote physical and mental well-being, especially regarding children’s activities and gyms.

On Friday, Public Health Wales said there had been a further 533 cases of coronavirus in Wales, taking the number of confirmed cases to 200,989.

The agency reported another 16 deaths, taking the total in the country since the start of the pandemic to 5,205.