By Morgan Perry
At a press conference at the Senedd this afternoon, First Minister Mark Drakeford laid out three key changes to Coronavirus lockdown restrictions in Wales, with shops, hair salons and schools set to re-open. The move comes on the same day that the UK Government chose to lower its alert level from level four to level three, and in the same week that Mr Drakeford said he hadn’t heard from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, “for almost three weeks”.
First, from Monday, June 22, all non-essential retail will be permitted to re-open (in line with shops in England, which re-opened on Monday), so long as social distancing can be adhered to. Unlike in England, the Welsh Government has made it a legal requirement to ensure that social distancing is in place, in order to protect workers from Coronavirus.
In addition to retail, house viewings will be permitted to resume, and outdoor sports courts will be allowed to re-open; a welcome move for some who have criticised the Welsh Government’s decision to keep tennis courts closed.
From June 29, all pupils will be returning to school, but in a phased approach. Restrictions will continue to limit the number of children in classes at any one time, with up to a third of pupils in school at once. The Welsh Government’s approach differs to that in England, where many local authorities have chosen to prioritise the return of certain age or year groups.
The controversial “stay local” travel restriction, which suggested that people in Wales travel no more than five miles from their home, will be lifted from July 6, but only if the number of Coronavirus cases continues to fall. The Welsh Government has stated that people are permitted to travel further from their homes, although only for compassionate reasons.
Looking beyond July 6, the First Minister also advised that hair and beauty salon owners begin to think about how they may best be able to operate during the pandemic, with salons set to re-open by appointment only from July 13, so long as “scientific and medical evidence allows”. “You can’t cut hair from a two-meter distance” Mr Drakeford joked.
The next review of restrictions in Wales is scheduled for July 9th. It is then that many will be hoping for restrictions to be eased in regard to Wales’ tourism and hospitality sector, on which the economy heavily relies. “Hospitality”, the First Minister reiterated, “is not yet in a position [to re-open]” because of the decision to prioritise non-essential retail, schools and hairdressers.
The UK Government also chose to lower its Coronavirus alert level on June the 19, reducing it from level four to level three, meaning the virus is considered to be “in general circulation”, but that restrictions should be “gradually eased”. This news came as the Government announced that a further 173 people have died, and 1346 have tested positive for Coronavirus. Given the high number of new cases, this decision will likely attract criticism from some.
In the shadow of the decision made by politicians in Westminster, Mr Drakeford continued to insist that “the threat of Coronavirus has not gone away”. He explained why the Welsh Government has chosen to remain on amber alert, according to its three-tier Coronavirus alert level, despite there being only thirty-one newly reported cases in Wales. Mr Drakeford also revealed this week that he and the Prime Minister had not spoken since May 28.
Despite the differing approaches in England and Wales, the easing of restrictions will be seen by many as a much-desired move towards some kind of normality as Wales continues to fight the Coronavirus pandemic.