Mark Drakeford commits to reopening Wales as ‘firebreak’ lockdown ends

Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford has set out how Wales will reopen once its 17-day coronavirus ‘firebreak’ lockdown ends on November 9th despite the announcement of a new national lockdown in England.

Drakeford told a Covid-19 press conference today that the UK government’s English lockdown will “inevitably have an impact” on those living in Wales, but he committed to ending his own lockdown measures next week.

The First Minister said in Wales working from home wherever possible will remain but schools and businesses will reopen in full, groups of up to 15 will be able to meet for organised activities indoors and two households will be able to form a ‘bubble’.

He also announced that there would be travel restrictions between England and Wales from next week, once the latter has left lockdown, but travel within Wales will be unrestricted and local lockdowns no longer in place.

Drakeford said: “When I spoke to you on Friday, I said I would report back with the outcome of the discussions we held over the weekend about the new set of national measures, which will be put in place when the ‘firebreak’ comes to an end next Monday.

“Ministers have been meeting throughout the weekend to consider the final details of these measures. Our plans – and our discussions – have had to adapt to the unexpected announcement by the Prime Minister that England will start a month-long lockdown on Thursday.

“I want to be absolutely clear our firebreak will end as planned – and as promised – next Monday. But now we have had to consider the impact the English lockdown will have on the next steps we take in Wales.

“We need to do this because we share a long and porous border with England. Every day – on a non-lockdown day – almost 150,000 people criss-cross this border to work, visit family, shop, do business and travel…

“The English lockdown inevitably will have an impact on people who live in Wales but work in England, on companies operating in both Wales and England and on businesses trading along the border. We are coming out of our firebreak just as England starts its month-long lockdown.

“It’s really important that as we open up, Wales doesn’t become an escape for people seeking to circumvent the new tighter restrictions imposed by the Prime Minister. We want to keep Wales safe and we want to keep the UK safe.”

The First Minister said new border restrictions between England and Wales were needed to stop the spread of Covid but are likely to be the hardest border rules to exist between the two nations “for several centuries at least”.

Drakeford also confirmed that the measures are set to be reviewed in two weeks’ time, and that local lockdowns could once again be introduced in Wales if sizeable disparities in infections arise between regions.

He first announced that Wales would enter a short, sharp ‘firebreak’ lockdown on October 19th, telling the public that the measure would “slow down the virus and buy us more time” following a rise in the number of Covid cases.

The reopening in Wales follows the announcement over the weekend from Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the government plans for England to face a fresh national lockdown to help slow the spread of coronavirus in the country.

The new measures, set start on November 5th and end on December 2nd, will see all non-essential shops and hospitality close for four weeks – but unlike the original lockdown, schools, colleges and universities will stay open.

The First Minister told the press conference today that “it was a surprise” to hear of the proposed lockdown in England over the weekend and said the Welsh government initially found out about the measures from “newspaper reports”.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth is urging government ministers to use the four-week coronavirus lockdown in England to improve the test and trace system that has been beset by problems during the crisis.

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