Wales lifted its firebreak lockdown 'too expansively and too soon', says Michael Gove

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Shoppers wearing face masks carry bags in the centre of Cardiff where shops are open and people are out in numbers taking advantage of buying nonessential items in the run-up to Christmas. Restrictions across Wales have been relaxed following a two-week "firebreak" lockdown.
Shoppers in Cardiff, Wales, which Michael Gove says came out of its lockdown last month 'too soon' and 'too expansively'. (PA)

The Welsh government has been accused of lifting its “firebreak” coronavirus lockdown too soon by Michael Gove.

The Cabinet Office minister said Wales came out of its lockdown last month “too soon” and “too expansively”.

On Monday, Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford announced that pubs and restaurants in the country must stop selling alcohol and shut by 6pm from Friday.

Cinemas, bowling alleys and other indoor entertainment venues must also close until the measures are reviewed on 17 December.

Wales emerged from its firebreak 17-day mini-lockdown on 9 November, and although Drakeford initially said there were “early positive signs” that COVID-19 cases were beginning to fall, a spike soon followed the easing of restrictions.

In the three weeks after the firebreak ended, there has been another rise in cases, particularly among under-25s in 17 of the nation’s 22 local authorities.

When asked by Sky News on Tuesday if England could be heading for a third national lockdown, Gove said: “You can never rule anything out in politics, but, as I say, I’m pretty confident on the basis of the rigour with which these new tiers are applying that we can prevent a national lockdown.

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“One thing I fear though would be that if we were to relax the situation too rapidly then we would have the situation which we have had in some other countries, and, indeed, in Wales, where you have to slam the brakes on again.”

In a separate interview, he told BBC Breakfast: “I’ve got enormous sympathy with the difficulties that the Welsh government are wrestling with.

“But it looks, with the benefit of hindsight, as though immediately after their two-week lockdown they lifted restrictions too expansively.

“As a result of doing that the virus once more got out of control, so they’ve had to slam the brakes on again.

“That’s one of the reasons why we’re exiting the lockdown [in England] cautiously.

“The example of Wales shows what can happen if you lift the restrictions in too blanket a way too soon.”

Gove also insisted that the government has no plans to introduce “immunity passports” to allow entry into pubs and restaurants after a COVID-19 vaccine is available.

Watch: Michael Gove rules out ‘vaccine passports’

Consumer and business groups in Wales warned that the new restrictions on the sale of alcohol would devastate the hospitality industry.

Drakeford said: “It is a simple fact that we continue to face a virus that is moving incredibly quickly across Wales and a virus that will exploit every opportunity when we spend time with one another.”

But organisations including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Campaign for Real Ale and the Society of Independent Brewers criticised the decision for threatening the future of businesses.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove wears a face mask as he leaves a branch of Pret A Manger in Westminster, London.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said Wales emerged from its firebreak lockdown 'too soon'. (PA)

Ian Price, CBI Wales director, said: “The first minister’s announcement is devastating for a Welsh hospitality sector that’s already reeling from a damaging cycle of restrictions.

“Pubs, restaurants and shops that should be buzzing at this time of year now face a hugely uncertain future, with closures and job losses all but guaranteed.”

But Drakeford said there was evidence that people meeting in hospitality settings were not having “glancing contact” with others, such as in a supermarket, but sitting together for a period of time.

This, he said, had contributed to a rise in Wales’ seven-day incidence rate from 187 cases per 100,000 people on Friday to almost 210 cases per 100,000 on Monday.

Watch: How England's three-tier COVID system works

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