Wales needs answer on Covid travel ban this week, says Labour health minister

Elliot Chappell

Labour’s Vaughan Gething has declared that the Welsh government needs an answer on its proposed Covid travel ban this week and warned that “otherwise we’ll have to introduce our own measures”.

In an interview with the BBC’s Politics Live this afternoon, the Welsh health minister discussed the request for restrictions on people travelling from Covid hotspots in England to other parts of the UK including Wales.

His comments follow those of Mark Drakeford on Monday evening, which saw the First Minister offer Boris Johnson “one final opportunity” to stop travel from high-prevalence areas before he uses the powers available to him.

The UK Prime Minister’s spokesperson has said that “people from high risk areas shouldn’t be leaving those areas” but the government has not put these restrictions in law and instead relied on people following guidance only.

Gething told viewers today that the proposed ban is about “minimising the risk to lower prevalence areas” and stressed it would work to keep safe not just Welsh residents but people across “every part of the UK”.

Asked whether Wales would close the border if the UK government refused to introduce measures to restrict movement by law, Gething explained: “This isn’t about closing the border.

“It’s about using the powers we have under the Public Health Act to introduce health protections against travel from certain parts where there is a high prevalence area.”

But the health minister added that the Welsh government had already had conversations with its lawyers and told viewers: “We’re clear the powers exist.”

People in some areas with local Covid restrictions in England have been told not to leave the area, but the health minister highlighted that this is guidance and his government is pushing for Johnson to provide something “generally enforceable”.

Gething argued that the proposed plan is not about “shutting Wales from England”, stressing that the policy would have implications that would prevent travel from “any part of the UK with high prevalence areas”.

He reminded viewers that similar measures were in place in the last lockdown: “We had this in ‘stay local‘ when we had our stay local rules. The police were able to enforce it and people understood and respected the fact there were rules in place.

“The idea this isn’t enforceable is just rubbish because we’ve been round this track some way before… For high prevalence areas, there is a very powerful rationale to making sure that travel is restricted to all other parts of the UK.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford wrote to Boris Johnson last month asking that he restrict travel to Wale from English Covid hotspots. The correspondence was ignored by the Prime Minister but Drakeford promised on Monday to write again.

He told the BBC last night: “UK ministers were asking me today for the evidence that tells you that if people come from high areas to low areas, that spreads the virus. We’ve got that evidence, we’ll share that with the Prime Minister.

“And I will set out in my letter the powers we have and, if he doesn’t act then, we will use them. But I want to offer him one final opportunity to do the right thing. Because that would be fair to people in Wales and people across our border.

“I don’t want it to be a border issue. People in England in high incidence areas should not be going to low incidence areas in England, either.”

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