Wales sees 'early positive signs' as it comes out of firebreak lockdown, first minister says

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Watch: Wales emerges from firebreak lockdown

Wales has seen “early positive signs” in its fight against coronavirus as it comes out of its firebreak lockdown, its first minister has said.

In a press conference on Monday, Mark Drakeford said there had already been signs that COVID-19 cases were “beginning to fall”.

The country’s short 17-day coronavirus lockdown ended on Monday and was replaced with a new set of national measures.

Groups of up to four people can now meet up in cafes, pubs and restaurants, while shops, gyms, hairdressers and places of worship will also reopen.

Drakeford said there were “tentative early positive signs and those give us hope”.

He said the case rate had dropped from 250 per 100,000 people across Wales to just under 220 cases per 100,000 people.

People exit one of the few shops open in the shopping centre of Bridgend, which is almost deserted as Wales records a record high in the daily number of coronavirus cases, with another 37 people dying from the virus. Latest figures from Public Health Wales (PHW) for Wednesday, October 28, show 1,414 positive test results have been reported in the last 24 hours, a rise on the 1,207 announced on Tuesday and the highest daily total since the pandemic began. A total of 46,459 people have now tested positive in Wales since the pandemic began in March. Wales has entered week one of a two-week "firebreak" lockdown in an attempt to protect the country's NHS from being overwhelmed by the resurgence of coronavirus.
A sign outside a shop in Bridgend, Wales, where a 17-day firebreak lockdown has ended. (PA)

Drakeford said the case rate in Merthyr Tydfill, which last week was the worst-hit place in the UK, had fallen from 741 per 100,000 to 520 per 100,000.

“That is still far too high, of course,” he added.

He said there are more than 1,400 patients with coronavirus in Welsh hospitals, higher than the level in April.

“Our success or failure lies in the hands of every one of us,” he said.

On Sunday, Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething told the BBC: "We think we're starting to see a plateauing, a levelling off, in the rates of coronavirus across the country.

"It's still at a high rate which means that there's still a reservoir of coronavirus within our communities."

On Monday, Welsh chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton said the firebreak had a positive impact on people’s movements.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are coming out of the firebreak arrangements today.

“We always recognised that there would be a lag in terms of the indicators we look at as to how successful we have been.

“But we are seeing some early signs of stability and we are seeing that in mobility data, so we recognise that the people of Wales have been travelling significantly less during the firebreak, and we are starting to see that in some of the testing rates.”

Previously, Drakeford warned there would be an “inevitable” rise in COVID-19 cases in some areas.

Dr Atherton said that although the firebreak lockdown was over, people’s behaviour still needed to change.

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“As we come out of this firebreak,” he said, “we can’t simply go back to the behaviour we had before. We still need to work differently.”

Asked if people could be stopped from travelling between England and Wales, Dr Atherton said that with England under national lockdown there was no reason to cross the border.

He added: “As England comes out of its lockdown we will absolutely have to reconsider how people travel.”

Under the new measures in Wales, 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”.

A 10pm curfew on alcohol sales will carry over from before the firebreak, with people required to prove their home address in bars following concerns people in England could flout its own lockdown and travel to Wales for a drink.

There are no restrictions on travel within Wales, but people will not be allowed to travel outside of the country unless for a reasonable excuse such as work.

Drakeford urged the Welsh public to reduce the number of people they see as well as time spent with them, warning that “we cannot go back to the way we were living our lives”.

MERTHYR TYDFIL, WALES - NOVEMBER 06: A man and woman wearing face masks and sunglasses walk through the town centre on November 6, 2020 in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. Merthyr Tydfil, with 741 cases per 100,000 people in the past week, has moved above Oldham and Blackburn in Lancashire as the worst-hit area in the UK. Wales is currently in a 'firebreak' lockdown which started on October 23 and will end on November 9. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
People wearing face masks in the Welsh town of Merthyr Tydfil, the worst-hit area in the UK for coronavirus. (Getty Images)

He said: “We all need to think about our own lives and what we can all do to keep our families safe. We need to stop thinking about the maximum limit of rules and regulations.

“Coronavirus is a highly infectious virus – it thrives on contact between people. To keep each other safe we need to reduce the number of people we have contact with and the amount of time we spend with them.

“There will be a new set of national measures from today, which will follow up all the hard work and sacrifices which have been made during the firebreak.

“We cannot go back to the way we were living our lives and throw away all that hard work.”

Watch: The exceptions to England’s new lockdown

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