Wales will ban entry to people from areas of the UK with high levels of coronavirus by Friday if Boris Johnson fails to impose UK-wide travel restrictions, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.
Mr Drakeford told the Welsh Parliament he had asked for work on the travel ban to be brought forward after the Prime Minister failed to reply to two letters requesting he introduce the measure across the UK.
The Welsh Government’s plans will bring people elsewhere in the UK in line with measures currently in place in the 17 areas of Wales under local lockdown restrictions.
Under those rules, people must not enter or leave an affected area without a reasonable excuse such as work or education.
There has been no formal response from @BorisJohnson to my requests to restrict travel into Wales from coronavirus hotspots.
I am preparing new regulations to protect the health of people in Wales that will come into force on Friday.
— Mark Drakeford (@fmwales) October 14, 2020
But currently, people living in Covid-19 hotspots elsewhere in the UK are free to enter areas of Wales not under restrictions where levels of the virus are low.
The ban is likely to apply to people living in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas of England and is designed to prevent them from travelling to tourist destinations such as the far west and south west of Wales, which have low levels of coronavirus.
It will also affect those living in areas of Scotland and Northern Ireland with a high prevalence of Covid-19.
Those who ignore the restrictions will be breaking the law and could face fixed penalty notices.
Addressing MSs in the Senedd on Wednesday, Mr Drakeford said: “No reply from the Prime Minister has been received in reply to my request.
“I have therefore asked for the necessary work to be brought forward which would allow for devolved powers to be used to prevent people travelling into Wales from high prevalence areas of the United Kingdom.”
The First Minister added: “The timetable for the powers that we have in Wales is to do it by the end of the week.”
He said the deadline would give “more time for the Prime Minister of the UK Government to do the things that we have asked him to do. To do the same thing for people who live in England as we have done for the people who live in Wales”.
A UK Government spokesman described the decision to impose a travel ban as “disappointing”.
“It is clear that this virus does not respect geography and any new local spikes need all levels of government to work together,” the spokesman said.
“We’ve been working closely with the devolved administrations to support communities and businesses and it is disappointing that they have chosen to act unilaterally rather than collaborating with other parts of the UK.
“It is important that people follow their devolved administration’s local guidance. From the outset, our guidance has also been very clear that people from very high prevalence areas should avoid travelling in or out of that area.”
Mr Drakeford noted he had received support from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for the travel ban, adding: “Now is the time for the Prime Minister to do the same thing.”
Ms Sturgeon earlier told the Scottish Government’s press briefing she supported Mr Drakeford’s push for travel restrictions to be imposed across the UK, and would not rule out imposing her own.
Fully support @fmwales on this. These are public health decisions, and nothing to do with constitutional or political debates. @scotgov will also take whatever action we consider necessary to control COVID. https://t.co/FTFKIwBrfE
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) October 14, 2020
“I want to be clear today that I back the calls from the First Minister of Wales and I’ll be writing to the Prime Minister today to seek urgent talks on that issue,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon added: “On the specific about travel restrictions, if we think putting formal travel restrictions in places necessary, we will do that and I don’t rule that out – I don’t rule anything out.”
The chief executive of the Welsh NHS, Dr Andrew Goodall, said he would also “welcome any actions that help us have a control of the levels of community transmission” when asked if he was in favour of the travel ban.
Following Mr Drakeford’s announcement, the Welsh Conservative group leader, Paul Davies, claimed in the Senedd that the scientific paper attached to the letter sent to the Prime Minister itself “confirms that the data does not constitute definitive proof in favour of a travel ban”.
The First Minister has acted without examining a range of other factors before a conclusion on whether to impose a travel ban, while at the same time ignoring the fact that transmission rates in relation to travel had already peaked in Aug and Sept… https://t.co/C5Tzstf9mV
— Paul Davies MS/AS (@PaulDaviesPembs) October 14, 2020
Later, Mr Davies said in a statement: “It is incumbent on the First Minister to explain just why he has chosen to act in this way, and what supporting evidence he and his ministers have seen to justify a ban and then publish it so it can be properly scrutinised.
“If he cannot or will not, then he must review and rescind this ban immediately.”
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said: “This announcement is long overdue and I’m pleased to see the Welsh Government finally taking this necessary course of action to protect the people of Wales.”
He added: “Let this be a lesson to Welsh Government. Continued correspondence with Downing Street will not get us the answers we want. We should have learnt our lessons from the first wave: depending on Westminster does not work for Wales.”
On Wednesday, Public Health Wales said a further 946 people had tested positive for coronavirus – the highest increase of cases in Wales on a single day.
A further 10 people with coronavirus were reported to have died, bringing the total number of deaths in the country since the start of the pandemic to 1,688.