Friday’s lockdown review: Five things that are expected to change in Wales
Spring is here and as the daffodils open, so – it is hoped – will Wales, as the First Minister announces his plan for easing Covid-19 restrictions.
No one yet knows exactly what Mark Drakeford will say at the next lockdown review this Friday, 12 March.
The final decisions are always made in a Cabinet meeting on Thursday before the announcement.
However, there are a few things that have already been suggested to the media and the public about what will reopen and what won’t.
The First Minister Mark Drakeford has always said that these steps would only be taken if Covid-19 cases remained low – but there is no sign, at the moment, of a big increase.
The cautious First Minister rarely hints at anything in media interviews unless they’re on the cards so these measures are all likely to go ahead.
Mark Drakeford has suggested that rather than lift the “stay at home” restriction completely there will be an “intermediate step” between them.
He told yesterday’s Radio Wales Sunday Supplement that he was looking at the possibility of moving to a ‘stay local’ move.
Wales faced a similar five-mile restriction last year, which was strongly attacked by the Conservative opposition at the time as a ‘five-mile cruel rule’.
The First Minister said: “And we will be looking carefully this week at whether an intermediate period of stay local – people are used to that, we’ve had a period of that last year – if that would be the first step on a journey.”
Mark Drakeford has also suggested that non-essential retail will get the go-ahead to re-open at Friday’s press conference.
However, it has been suggested that this could be a “staggered reopening” with different sectors opening at different times over the next three weeks.
CBI Wales revealed on Friday that they had been asked to help distribute reopening guidance ahead of the expected date on Monday 15 March.
Ian Price, CBI Wales Director, said: “With transmission rates heading in the right direction and incredible progress being made on vaccination, non-essential retailers and close contact service providers will be looking to the prospect of a mid-March reopening with huge sense of relief.”
The First Minister said on Sunday that “we’ll look to see whether we can take the first tentative steps in re-opening the economy in non-essential retail.”
Like non-essential retail, hairdressers are expected to be given the go-ahead to reopen on 15 March.
This will be almost an entire month before England where they will not be opening until 12 April, which could lead to concerns among some that many a hairy mane will come galloping over the border.
CBI Wales have also been asked to distribute guidance for hairdressers for 15 March.
“We’ll use the next three weeks to see if we can […] look at options for re-opening some shops and hairdressers,” Mark Drakeford said two weeks ago.
Most school children are expected to return to school in England from today but Mark Drakeford is expected to announce a more staggered plan in Wales.
Schools will be able to welcome pupils in years 7, 8 and 9 for “check-in” sessions before they are due back fully from mid-April.
All primary pupils, years 11 and 13, and some college students will begin to return from 15 March, with flexibility for year 10 and 12, to return.
Schools will also be allowed to decide whether to give 11 to 14-year-olds the opportunity to see teachers face-to-face before the Easter holidays begin.
Nothing is expected to open next week but Mark Drakeford has been hinting for some time that self-contained accommodation will be allowed to reopen in time for the Easter holidays.
A likely date mooted for this phased reopening is the 2nd of April.
“And I do hope to be able to say something for thee weeks beyond the next three weeks,” Mark Drakeford said.
“And that will indeed look to Easter and see whether there is any emerging headroom for us to do what we would like to do, but will only do if it is safe, and that is to offer the prospect of reopening self-contained accommodation.”
The public’s health will no doubt be foremost in Mark Drakeford’s mind but he will also be aware of the Senedd election in two months’ time.
One of the main accusations by the Welsh Conservatives throughout the pandemic has been that Wales has been slower out of lockdown than England.
The First Minister has already said that there could be “opportunities” to open some of the economy earlier in Wales compared with England.
Could Drakeford, therefore, choose to reveal some as-yet-untrailed sector that will reopen sooner than expected?