Welsh Government officially announce two week ‘fire break’ lockdown from Friday

Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford. Picture by the Welsh Government

Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced that Wales will go into a two-week lockdown from this Friday, 23 October until midnight 9 November.

He said that it was a fixed period and would not be extended beyond that. He added that Wales would see the advantages in the period beyond the lockdown itself.

“Everyone in Wales will be required to stay at home unless work means that staying at home is simply not possible,” he said.

Primary schools will reopen in the second week, after half term, and year seven and eight in secondary schools. Other pupils will be required to work at home. University and colleges will remain open.

All gatherings indoors and outdoors will be banned with people not in households. Bonfire gatherings or for gatherings for Halloween will not be allowed.

“I and my cabinet colleagues are aware of the demands we are making,” he said. “Of course we are all tired of coronavirus. We all want to see an end to this pandemic and our lives return to normal.

“A fire break period is our best chance of regaining control of the virus and avoiding a much more damaging national lockdown.

“To be successful we need everyone’s help here in Wales. This is the moment to come together and play our part in a common endeavour.”

 

‘Increasing numbers’

The First Minister also announced a resilience fund of an extra £300m pounds as all non-essential businesses will be required to close.

Described as a ‘fire break’ the lockdown is aimed at curbing surging Covid-19 levels across Wales before an “open-ended” national lockdown was needed.

Much of the country has already been in stricter local lockdowns, with only Anglesey, Pembrokeshire, Powys, Monmouthshire and most of Gwynedd avoiding the need for tighter restrictions.

Mark Drakeford described it as a “very serious situation” and asked for people’s help to get it under control. He said there were “no easy choices as the virus spread rapidly” in many parts of Wales.

“Unless we act the NHS will not be able to look after the increasing number of people who are falling seriously ill,” he said.

New rules

The full list of rules for the new fire break lockdown are:

  • People must stay at home, except for very limited purposes, such as for exercise.
  • People must work from home wherever possible;
  • People must not visit other households or meet other people they do not live with either indoors and outdoors;
  • No gatherings will be allowed outdoors, such as Halloween or fireworks/Bonfire night or other organised activities;
  • All non-food retail, hospitality businesses, including cafes, restaurants and pubs (unless they provide take-away or delivery services), close contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, and events and tourism businesses, such as hotels must close;
  • Community centres, libraries and recycling centres will be required to close;
  • Face coverings must be worn in indoor public spaces, which remain open, including on public transport and in taxis.

During this time:

  • Adults living alone or single parents will be able to join with one other household for support;
  • Primary and special schools will re-open as normal after half-term
  • Secondary schools will re-open after the half-term for children in years seven and eight and most vulnerable children. Pupils will be able to come in to take exams but other pupils will continue their learning from home for an extra week.
  • Universities will provide a blend of in-person and online learning;
  • NHS and health services will continue to operate;
  • Local parks, playgrounds and outdoor gyms will remain open.

Following the end of the fire-break, a new set of national rules will be introduced, covering how people can meet and how the public sector and businesses operate.

Cases of coronavirus have been rising sharply in Wales as the virus has woken up for winter. While the national and local measures put in place across Wales have helped to keep the spread of the virus in check, there is a growing consensus that additional action is now needed.

Between October 9 and 15, there were 4,127 new confirmed cases of coronavirus recorded by Public Health Wales, based on positive test results but the real level of infections will be much higher. The number of people admitted to hospital with coronavirus symptoms is growing daily and sadly so too are the number of people dying with coronavirus.

The R number is currently between 1.1 and 1.4, meaning continued exponential growth in the number of cases and the seven-day rolling incidence rate for Wales stands at more than 130 cases per 100,000 population.

Support

Businesses affected by the firebreak will be supported with a new £300m fund, which will open next week:

  • Every business covered by the small business rates relief will receive a £1,000 payment.
  • Small and medium-sized retail, leisure and hospitality businesses, which have to close will receive a one-off payment of up to £5,000.
  • There will also be additional discretionary grants and support for smaller businesses, which are struggling.
  • The £80m fund announced last week to help businesses develop in the longer term, will be increased to £100m, which includes £20m ring-fenced for tourism and hospitality.

Businesses will also be able to access the support available through the existing Job Retention Scheme or the new expanded Job Support Scheme.

The First Minister has written to the Chancellor to ask him to give Welsh businesses early access to the new expanded Job Support Scheme from Friday. The Welsh Government has offered to pay the extra costs to the UK Government scheme to ensure businesses can retain staff.

‘Rolling’

Responding to the Welsh Government’s announcement, Welsh Conservative leader Paul Davies, called the lockdown “not-proportionate”.

He called on the Welsh Government to be “open and transparent” on the evidence to support a lockdown and if the First Minister is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns every month.

“Sadly, the First Minster has failed to get public support for this second Wales-wide lockdown, failing to be open and transparent about the evidence to justify this lockdown and what his actions will entail for the future,” he said.

“The Welsh Government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns. This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year. The Welsh Government must be clear what actions they are taking during the lockdown to prevent further Wales-wide lockdowns which will have a significant impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

“However, the main concern is that this national lockdown is not proportionate. The impact on businesses in areas such as Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, who have the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases in Wales, will be severe at a time when they are desperately struggling to recover from the pandemic so far this year.

“The First Minister needs to urgently come to the Welsh Parliament and answer these questions, to face effective scrutiny by elected representatives and not run his government by media.”

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