By Sam Portillo | News Editor
From 6pm today, Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport will each enter a new state of lockdown, meaning residents will be unable to leave their county without a “reasonable excuse”.
Collectively, the four counties yesterday reported 57 new cases of coronavirus, almost a quarter of the national total. “We have been closely monitoring the developing situation… the rates in these areas are now higher than the Welsh average,” Health Minister Vaughan Gething said.
The restrictions will also forbid people in the affected areas from meeting with members of “extended households” indoors. As it stands, however, people across Wales can meet in groups of up to thirty outdoors, with a social distance of two metres. As is the case across the country, everyone over the age of 11 must wear a face covering when in a “public indoor space”, such as a supermarket, shop or form of shared transport.
The Welsh Government has ordered pubs and bars in the four counties to close at 11pm, in an attempt to encourage sensible socialising and stop drunken customers from mixing without regard for safety precautions.
The new rules will affect over 400,000 people, many of whom usually commute to Cardiff or other nearby cities for work and university. The four counties join Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf in surrounding Cardiff with locked-down areas. The Welsh Government, itself based in Cardiff Bay, will hope that they have moved in time to prevent infections from spilling over into the capital.
It appears many cases trace back to different households mixing and socialising indoors without social distancing and enhanced hygiene in place. Contact tracing and testing has attributed rising numbers in Newport to a single house party, after which guests mixed with the wider community and the virus began to pick up speed.
The Welsh Government announcement comes on the same day that Sir Patrick Vallance and Prof Chris Whitty, the UK’s Chief Scientific and Medical Advisers respectively, took to the television screens to set out the reality of the worsening situation, identifying the colder months as a “six-month problem” which must be taken “very seriously”.
The national figures for cases and deaths are not at the levels seen at the peak of the epidemic in early April, but could very well continue to worsen. The Welsh Government will hope that quick and localised responses to rising cases, as seen in these counties and others, have come soon enough to cut the chain of transmission.