Wales brings 'fire-breaker' lockdown into force to curb Covid-19

23 October 2020, 18:00 | Updated: 23 October 2020, 18:12

Mark Drakeford said it was about saving 'lives, not Christmas'
Mark Drakeford said it was about saving 'lives, not Christmas'. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Wales has enforced a 'fire-breaker lockdown', meaning non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants have been closed and people are banned from socialising outside their own household.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford warned that hundreds more people would die from coronavirus across Wales "unless we act now to bring this deadly disease under control".

On Friday, the Welsh Labour leader also blamed a decade of austerity imposed by the UK Government for leaving Wales's health service at risk of being overwhelmed by rising numbers of people infected with Covid-19.

Read more: Welsh supermarkets told to sell ‘essential’ items only as 'firebreak' starts at 6pm

He said the public's compliance with the newest set of restrictions, which come into force at 6pm on Friday and last until November 9, would give hope that the country could "enjoy a version" of Christmas in two months time.

But Mr Drakeford stressed the measures "are about saving lives, not Christmas".

He told the Welsh Government's Covid-19 press briefing: "That's the seriousness of the position we are in. Our ambition is we will not need to have this level of restriction again in Wales before Christmas.

"I want shops to be able to trade. I want people to be able to prepare. I want to offer people some hope that, provided we all do the right things, then we will still be able to enjoy a version of the holiday that we would have otherwise enjoyed."

People react as Wales begins it's 17 day "firebreak"

Police in England will attempt to block non-essential journeys out of Wales while the country is under the two-week firebreak lockdown.

Gloucestershire Constabulary confirmed they would patrol routes into the Forest of Dean area and pull over vehicles they suspected of making long journeys.

Read more: Tougher Covid-19 restrictions begin for millions of people across England and Wales

The force said drivers who turned out to have driven out of Wales without a valid excuse would be advised to turn around and, if they refused, would then be reported to police in Wales who can issue fines.

It said it would form part of a wider police operation in response to high numbers of people from outside the Forest of Dean area visiting Cannop cycle centre and causing congestion by parking on grass verges near it.

When asked if he envisaged people from outside Wales being prevented from entering the country for Christmas, Mr Drakeford said it was "impossible to predict" how Wales's attempts to lower the prevalence of the virus "will mesh in with the difficulties faced elsewhere in the United Kingdom".

Police in England will attempt to block non-essential journeys out of Wales while the country is under the two-week firebreak lockdown
Police in England will attempt to block non-essential journeys out of Wales while the country is under the two-week firebreak lockdown. Picture: PA

Mr Drakeford said that while there were still people who seek to persuade others the pandemic is a hoax and the virus only a mild disease, they "do not face the families of the people who have died this week, who will never see and never speak to their loved one again".

"They will never face the hundreds more people in Wales who would die unless we act now to bring this deadly disease back under control," he added.

Mr Drakeford also said health services were "less well-prepared" to deal with Covid-19 due to the austerity measures imposed by Westminster in the decade before, after having previously stated the new lockdown was an attempt at avoiding the Welsh NHS becoming overwhelmed.

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"The health service in Wales has suffered from a decade of austerity alongside every other public service that we face," he said.

"And right across the UK, I think it can be argued that we have been less well prepared for coronavirus than we would have been had we not seen that 10 long years of underinvestment in our public services by a UK Government determined to tell us that that money couldn't be found.

"We know now that wasn't the case because when we needed to find money during this pandemic we've been able to find it and we could have found it then as well."

The First Minister said discussions were under way to decide which measures will be used in Wales to tackle coronavirus after the firebreak period, which included the reopening of businesses and travel arrangements.

"We'll be looking most importantly of all at how households operate. Coronavirus spreads inside households. Coronavirus loves it when people get together," Mr Drakeford said.

"We've got to find ways in which we can allow people to meet with those who are closest to them while not going back to situations where the virus has been able to spread and run away from us in the way we've seen in the last six weeks."

When asked whether Wales could follow a three-tier system as implemented in England, Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government would look at "a system that works for us rather than a system that we have copied".

He also defended his decision that supermarkets only sell essential goods during Wales's firebreak lockdown, saying it was "a simple matter of fair play".

"We are requiring many hundreds of small businesses to close on the high street right across Wales," Mr Drakeford said.

"We cannot do that and then allow supermarkets to sell goods that those people are unable to sell.

"And we are looking to minimise the amount of time that people spend out of their homes during this two-week period.

"This is not the time to be browsing around supermarkets looking for non-essential goods."

After it was suggested his government had been too late in communicating the restriction on items to retailers, Mr Drakeford said: "We are making decisions under huge pressure of events and making them as quickly as we are able."

He added: "We said from the very beginning that non-essential retail would close in Wales. All we are doing is clarifying that and remaining consistent with that initial decision."