News in brief: Visitors ‘welcome’ to Wales despite Covid-19 concerns
First Minister Mark Drakeford has stressed that people from outside Wales are “welcome” into the country during the summer holidays, despite growing concerns over Covid-19 infections increasing in parts of England and across Europe.
On Friday, the Scottish Government advised people in the north west of England affected by changes to lockdown there not to travel to Scotland – and vice versa.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced at a press briefing in London earlier today that he was reversing a decision to further relax lockdown restrictions in England from tomorrow.
It was time to “squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep that virus under control”, he said.
Last weekend quarantine restrictions were introduced for those travelling to Wales from Spain and Luxembourg had similar restriction put on travel yesterday due to an increase in cases.
Reports also indicate restrictions could be placed on travellers from Belgium and Croatia in the next few days.
“My advice to people who travel across our very permeable border, travelling into England and into Wales, is simply that if you come to Wales, please help us to keep Wales safe,” Mr Drakeford said at Friday’s press briefing.
He advised visitors “to maintain the social distance, make sure you wash your hands, if you’re using shared facilities do so carefully and consciously, because in that way we can go on keeping Wales safe and open for everybody to enjoy.”
Travel restrictions could be reintroduced to control future flare-ups of the virus but “would be targeted to where we think they would be necessary”, Mr Drakeford added
“We continue to be willing, were the facts to justify it, to think about local lockdowns where there are flare ups with considerable community transmission.
“And if we were to require local lockdowns in Wales, then ‘stay local’ might become part of the message…
“So, travel restrictions in that sense, are still part of the repertoire that we could draw on.”
Despite cases of the virus declining in Wales in recent months, the First Minister warned things could change very quickly.
“This is a virus where we can go from a position, as we are in Wales today, where the virus is at its lowest ebb and still declining.
“And in a very short number of weeks that position can be transformed, so nobody should think that we are immune from some of the difficulties others are experiencing.”
Four more deaths from coronavirus were confirmed in Friday’s report from Public Health Wales. The total number of people who have died with the virus now stands at 1,560.
All four coronavirus deaths recorded were in north Wales.
A further 26 new cases of Covid-19 were reported over the last 24 hours. Wrexham and Denbighshire saw the biggest rises as 24 out of 26 cases were reported in the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board region.
Overall, 17,258 people have now tested positive for the illness across the country. On Thursday 5,491 tests for coronavirus were carried out.
Letters are currently being sent out from the Chief Medical Officer Dr Frank Atherton to people who are shielding in Wales,
The letter confirms the announcement last month that individuals who have been shielding no longer need to do so from 16 August and provides details of the support that will continue to be available beyond that date.
In the letter Dr Atherton writes: “When I first advised you to shield, the coronavirus infection rate was much higher than it is now. Shielding at home was the best way for you to stay safe. Infection rates in Wales are now very low and so your chances of catching coronavirus (COVID-19) are much lower.
“In all of my advice to you I have tried to find the right balance between the risks of coronavirus, and the harm that asking you to continue to shield can cause. Staying at home for long periods of time can harm your mental and physical health.”
Those shielding are advised that after 16th August:
- You no longer need to stay 2 metres or 3 steps away from people you live with or who are part of your extended household.
- you can go to work, if you cannot work from home, as long as the business is COVIDsecure (has taken reasonable measures to minimise risk to employees).
- children who have been shielding can return to school when schools re-start.
- you can go out for any reason, including going to shops to buy food but you should stay 2 metres or 3 steps away from other people.
Dr Atherton also confirmed the end of the food box scheme for those most vulnerable, and that people who are on the shielding list will continue to get priority slots for supermarket deliveries.
He also warns: “In the event of high numbers of coronavirus cases in a local area in Wales I will consider whether I need to ask people in that local area to shield. If this happens or advice changes for your area we will communicate with the public via local radio and television, and I will also write to you if I need to advise you to shield again.”
“In the future, if we need to advise people to shield, we are aiming to do so on an individual basis where your doctor can look at your own risk and decide what is the best advice for you.”
Luxembourg added to travel quarantine list
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has confirmed that travellers from Luxembourg to Wales will have to self-isolate for 14 days from today.
The announcement followed a meeting of ministers from all four UK countries to consider the public health risk posed by an increase in Covid-19 cases in Luxembourg.
Coronavirus cases have been increasing there since the end of June and people are now being advised not to travel to Luxembourg unless absolutely necessary.
Last weekend, travellers from Spain were instructed they should quarantine for 14 days after returning to Wales.
Belgium and Croatia are also experiencing an increase in cases and according to reports could be added to the list of countries requiring quarantine in the next few days.
Mr Gething also confirmed, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia and St Vincent and the Grenadines could be added to the list of countries exempt from travel restrictions.
Tories make tax pledges ahead of next year’s Senedd election
Writing today on the Gwydir blog, Welsh Conservative Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay MS says if the Tories won next May’s Senedd election they would adopt a formal legislative approach for taxation in Wales:
“We will introduce an annual Finance Bill in exactly the same way that the UK Government introduces a Finance Bill after every budget, “Mr Ramsay writes.
“This will allow greater scrutiny and greater input into our taxation plans and will mark a new maturing in the fiscal competence of the institution. Where Labour has pontificated about doing this, just like so many times before it will be the Welsh Conservatives who deliver financial accountability to Wales.”
Re-affirming the party’s policy of no new taxes and reducing taxes where possible, Mr Ramsay also indicated that each of the existing taxes controlled on a Wales-wide basis could well be reformed:
- Business Rates are currently a flat tax on business, shaped little by the wider economic circumstances or the investments businesses are making in their staff and their workplaces and their local economies. Thought will be given to reforming these taxes so that they directly contribute to a better business environment to help with economic recovery post Covid, especially with protecting and creating jobs.
- Land Transaction Tax could be reshaped to take into account a green agenda so that it rewards properties with environmental and energy efficiency.
- Landfill Tax will be examined to see how it might be improved.
While specifically ruling out making detailed tax announcements this far ahead of the election, the shadow minister also reiterated the ambition of a Welsh Conservative Government to cut income tax during the life of the next Welsh Parliament:
“Our long-term aim will be to reduce income tax when it is prudent to do so. But our ambition is way bigger than just a soundbite about cutting a penny or two off income tax, it encompasses our whole range of policy levers.”