Fears of friction over Covid restrictions as holidaymakers flock to Wales
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
There are fears that a significant divergence in Covid laws between Wales and England could lead to “some friction” as visitors continue to cross the border over the summer.
In England from Monday, July 19 – dubbed as ‘Freedom Day’ – the legal requirement to wear a face covering in shops and public transport will end, to be replaced with less stringent recommendations that masks be worn in crowded and enclosed spaces.
This includes the reopening of all remaining closed businesses and venues, including nightclubs, with all capacity limits also set to be removed.
But in Wales, where public health is a devolved issue, this will not be the case with face coverings remaining a legal requirement in all indoor public places for at least another three weeks unless health exemption applies.
This covers supermarkets and hospitality, with the only exception being when seated inside a pub or restaurant, as well as public transport and taxis with anyone travelling into Wales by rail expected to put a mask on after crossing the border.
The Welsh Government has suggested August 7, provided that the public health situation allows it, as a date to relax the regulations to more closely match those of England’s, with such a move to Alert Level 0 dropping the legal requirement to wear masks in such settings.
But concerns have been raised that the lack of clarity over the divergence in Covid-19 rules could lead to issues, with the majority of visitors to popular tourist venues tending to cross the border from England.
In the Commons on Wednesday, Arfon MP Hywel Williams urged the Prime Minister to “make it clear that those visiting Wales this summer must stick to Welsh laws” and to clarity that on Covid regulations that he could only speak for England.
In response, Boris Johnson said, “I think that people should stick to the rules and the guidance wherever they are, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about a cautious and measured approach.”
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Anglesey Council’s portfolio holder for economic development and tourism praised the Welsh Government’s handling thus far.
“Mark Drakeford’s approach to dealing with the pandemic has been more cautious and totally focused on protecting the people of Wales and the First Minister has served us well,” said Cllr Carwyn Jones, a member of the Plaid Cymru-led administration.
“Boris Johnson has been more gung-ho in his approach and is dropping the covid public health measures as of Monday in England.
“This difference in approach and response between England and Wales will potentially create some friction in certain situations with the summer holidays now upon us and different rules in place.
“I was aware during the first lockdown that some people visiting Anglesey from England were genuinely confused with the rules as they only get the updates on the English network TV that Boris Johnson was conveying, and he does so in a way that you could easily misconstrue what he is saying as covering the whole of the UK.
“I would urge everyone who is visiting Anglesey to come here and enjoy but do so on the proviso that you abide by the rules that are in place here in Wales, respect the businesses and the measures they have in place and respect our local communities and our precious environment.”
Meanwhile, a Gwynedd Council spokesperson said that signage is in place both on the border and within the county to remind people of the rules enforced in Wales.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have been urging those who choose to visit Gwynedd to be patient, to plan visits in advance and to respect our communities by following Welsh Covid-19 rules in full,” said a council spokesperson.
“We work closely with our partners from Welsh Government, including Visit Wales, local authorities, the police and other key organisations to ensure that people visitors are aware of the latest Welsh regulations.
“As part of this, signage is in place as people approach Wales to remind them of the need to adhere to Welsh Covid-19 regulations. We also have signage in place in Gwynedd’s towns and popular destinations to remind residents and visitors of the importance of keeping to the rules to help stop the spread of the virus.
“We are promoting the latest Welsh Government regulations on all our channels and reminding those visiting Wales of the need to keep wearing face masks and social distancing.
They added, “Information is also being circulated to Gwynedd businesses via regular bulletins which include posters and assets which can displayed to amplify the Welsh Covid-19 regulations, and our tourism and marketing team are using all their resources including the Snowdonia Mountains and Coast website to make sure that visitors from outside Wales are fully aware of the latest situation.
“Council Covid-19 community engagement officers continue to visit communities across the county to advise residents and businesses and will be reminding members of the public of the latest regulations, including the need to wear face coverings and keep social distance in indoor public places.
“Our priority is to keep the people of Gwynedd and the people who visit our county safe. But we all have a part to play in that and to stop the spread of infection.”