Wales to enter 'fire break' lockdown to help stop rise of Covid-19

19 October 2020, 12:20 | Updated: 19 October 2020, 18:45

By Maddie Goodfellow

Wales will enter a 'fire break' lockdown in a bid to reduce the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the country, First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced.

Mr Drakeford said the introduction of a new lockdown would deliver a "short, sharp shock" amid concerns NHS services are already struggling to cope.

The lockdown will last for 17 days, from Friday 23 October at 6pm until Monday 9 November, incorporating the half term holiday.

However Mr Drakeford warned that he did not expect the virus to be under control by November 9, only that the lockdown was needed to slow down the rise in cases.

All non-essential retail, leisure, hospitality and tourism businesses will close and everyone will be required to stay at home wherever possible, including working from home.

Household mixing will be banned both indoors and outdoors, although those in social bubbles will still be able to meet. 

Primary schools will open after the half-term week and secondary schools will open only to Year 7 and Year 8 pupils. 

Places of worship will be closed except for weddings and funerals.

Wales will be in lockdown for 17 days
Wales will be in lockdown for 17 days. Picture: PA

Mr Drakeford also announced a £300m economic resilience fund to help businesses through the shutdown. 

He said: "I can today confirm we created an enhanced Economic Resilience Fund of almost £300m.

"We have put an extra £150m into phase three of the ERF to support to businesses affected by the firebreak."Every business covered by the small business rates relief will get a £1,000 payment.

"Small and medium-sized retail, leisure and hospitality businesses which have to close will receive a one-off payment of up to £5,000.

"There will also be additional discretionary grants and support for smaller businesses, which are struggling."

University and colleges will remain open during Wales' firebreak lockdown, the first minister also confirmed. They will continue to provide a blend of in-person and online learning, he said.

"In the same way we are asking everyone to stay at home, if students have reading weeks or half-term they will also need to stay at home in their university accommodation," Mr Drakeford said.

He explained that households will not be able to meet up with other households “indoors or outdoors” during the lockdown.

He said: “Coronavirus spreads when people are in close contact with each other, especially indoors.

“To help break the cycle of transmission, there will be no gatherings with people you do not live with either indoors or outdoors during the two-week period.

"But he said there would be an exception for adults living alone and single parents who will be able to join with one other household for support.

Coronavirus cases have been rising across areas of Wales
Coronavirus cases have been rising across areas of Wales. Picture: PA

Mark Drakeford also confirmed that Bonfire Night fireworks parties and Halloween gatherings will be banned during the "firebreak" lockdown.

However, planned Remembrance Day events on Sunday 8 November - just hours before the new lockdown ends – will be allowed to go ahead.

Mr Drakeford said: “We’ve got to be completely clear with people - the rules, the law as it applies in Wales, will not allow bonfire gatherings or for gatherings for Halloween.

“In this extraordinary period, we all have to do everything we can do, because every little action that we take to work together will make a difference.”

The ban will be “self-policing”, he added, as “it will be very obvious if people are trying to break the law”.

Exceptions will be made for officially organised events to mark Remembrance Sunday, he said, which were “more important than ever” in difficult times.

Mark Drakeford announced further funds for businesses
Mark Drakeford announced further funds for businesses. Picture: Getty

Mr Drakeford told the press conference that without the new measures, the NHS will not be able to cope and "even more people will die."

"There are no easy choices in front of us as the virus spreads rapidly in every part of Wales," he said.

He told the press briefing: “It is with a heavy heart that I once again ask everyone to stay at home and businesses to shut."

He said everyone was “tired of coronavirus and the many rules and regulations we all have to live with”.

“We all want to see an end to this pandemic and our lives returned to us. Unfortunately, we do not yet have a vaccine, which will allow us to do that.

"So this is our best chance of regaining control of the virus and avoiding a much-longer – and damaging – national lockdown."

He added: “ We have a small window of opportunity to act."

Wales already has a travel ban in place from high risk areas
Wales already has a travel ban in place from high risk areas. Picture: PA

Paul Davies, Conservative leader of the opposition in the Senedd, said: "Sadly, the First Minster has failed to get public support for this second Wales-wide lockdown, failing to be open and transparent about the evidence to justify this lockdown and what his actions will entail for the future.

"The Welsh Government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns.

"This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year.

"The Welsh Government must be clear what actions they are taking during the lockdown to prevent further Wales-wide lockdowns which will have a significant impact on people's lives and livelihoods.

"However, the main concern is that this national lockdown is not proportionate.

"The impact on businesses in areas such as Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, who have the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases in Wales, will be severe at a time when they are desperately struggling to recover from the pandemic so far this year.

"The First Minister needs to urgently come to the Welsh Parliament and answer these questions, to face effective scrutiny by elected representatives and not run his government by media."

A travel ban preventing people from areas of the UK with high levels of coronavirus from entering Wales came into force on Friday.

There were a further 950 cases of Covid-19 diagnosed in Wales yesterday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 35,628.

Public Health Wales said three further deaths had been reported, with the total number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic rising to 1,711.