THE MESSAGE is changing from “Stay at home” to “Stay local” but the lock down, although relaxed is still in place, as part of what is being called “a careful, cautious and phased approach to relaxing coronavirus restrictions.”
First Minister Mark Drakeford made the announcement at today’s press conference. (Friday, March 12)
From Saturday 13 March, four people from two households will be able to meet outdoors to socialise, including in gardens. In addition, outdoor sports facilities, including basketball courts, tennis courts and golf courses, can reopen, and indoor care home visits will restart, for single designated visitors.
From Monday, all primary pupils and those in qualifications years will return. Schools will have the flexibility to bring year 10 and 12 learners back and more learners will return to colleges.
There will also be flexibility for in-school check-ins for all other pupils. All learners will return after the Easter break.
Hairdressers and barbers will re-open for appointments from Monday.
From 22 March non-essential retail will start re-opening gradually as the restrictions are lifted on what can be sold in shops which are currently open. Garden centres will also be able to open.
All shops, including all close contact services, will be able to open from 12 April – the same date as in England.
The move is being seen as a snub to small businesses. Non-essential items will be for sales in supermarkets before they are for sale in small shops. Its a U-turn for the Welsh Government who previously said they wanted to be fair to everyone in businesses.
The First Minister said at the Friday press conference: “We are taking a phased approach to unlocking each sector – starting with schools.
We will make step-by-step changes each week to gradually restore freedoms. We will monitor each change we make, so we know what impact each change has had on Wales’ public health situation.”
The First Minister also announced an additional £150m to support businesses affected by ongoing restrictions.
The First Minister has announced that an extra £150m available to help businesses which are not yet able to open to help top up the non-domestic rates grants.
He said it means hospitality, tourism, leisure and non-essential retail businesses, which must remain closed will be eligible for a third payment of between £4,000 and £5,000 to help them meet ongoing operating costs while they cannot trade.
“This is in top of the announcement earlier this week extending the business rates holiday for retail, leisure and hospitality businesses for the whole of the next financial year,” Mr Drakeford added.
“We have made well in excess of £2bn available to businesses over the course of the last year to help them through the pandemic, which is over and above the support available from the UK Government’s schemes.
“This is the most generous business support scheme available in the UK. I’m very pleased we’ve been able to safeguard more than 160,000 jobs in these most difficult of times.”
There has been “false hope” for small firms, and insufficient warning given to businesses ahead of re-opening say Plaid Plaid Cymru. Plaid’s Leader Adam Price also urged Welsh Government to put “families first” before tourism re-opens. The Welsh Government has not given businesses that are allowed to open on Monday “sufficient warning” whilst giving false hope to those not allowed to open, Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price has said.
Mr Price was responding to the announcement today from Welsh Government on lockdown easing.
The Plaid Cymru Leader added that there should be “some limited extended freedoms for families to come together” before tourism re-opens.
He added that there should be a “Wales wide consultation with the tourism sector” to establish whether it is viable for them to open to Welsh domiciled customers only over Easter and that case rates remained “stubbornly high” in many areas “attractive to tourists”.
Mr Price added that whilst “we all want the rules to be relaxed” this should be “the last lockdown, and to avoid another wave and further deaths in a few months.
Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price MS told The Herald: “We all want the rules to be relaxed but what we want even more is for this to be the last lockdown, and to avoid another wave and further deaths in a few months.
“The Welsh Government has not given those businesses allowed to open on Monday sufficient warning whilst giving false hope to those not allowed to open.
“We now need a Wales wide consultation with the tourism sector to establish whether it is viable for them to open to Welsh domiciled customers only over Easter.
“Case rates remain stubbornly high in many areas attractive to tourists and we must remember the huge pressures already facing local hospitals.
“After the sacrifices of the past year we should be putting families first and granting some limited extended freedoms for families to come together before tourism re-opens.
“With people’s wellbeing suffering during the pandemic allowing gyms to open would be welcomed by many, providing that they can do so safely.
“Clear and consistent communication from Ministers is essential to ensure adherence to the rules. If we all play our part, we look forward to greater freedoms when case rates allow
Ahead of the update on Covid-19 restrictions, Welsh Conservatives renewed calls on the First Minister to provide a roadmap out of lockdown for families, workers and businesses in Wales.
Andrew RT Davies has called for “windows of opportunity” to be provided for businesses in Wales, as well as a relaxing of restrictions on exercise if the data allows.
Speaking ahead of the First Minister’s announcement, Davies also warned Labour ministers not to reimpose the “five-mile rule” with an easing of travel restrictions expected.
Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “Labour should use this review to provide some hope and above all a detailed plan for families, workers and businesses across Wales.
“As a priority, this should include dates and windows of opportunity for businesses in the retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism sectors. It’s the least those sectors deserve.
“I believe it’s important we see a greater acknowledgement from ministers over the importance of exercise to the mental and physical wellbeing of so many people in Wales, and where data allows, we should look to reopen gyms and ensure our sporting fields are once again occupied, particularly for our children.
“Given the great national effort, it’s also the right time to end the “stay at home” regulation but encourage people to “stay local”, but without reintroducing the arbitrary five-mile rule.
“The great British and Welsh vaccination story has improved the situation considerably and as Welsh Conservatives we are unapologetic about our focus on getting Wales back on track after this gruelling and painful ordeal for our country.
“That should now start with a roadmap out of lockdown. And for the sake of families, workers, and businesses across Wales, I hope Labour ministers listen.”
Responding to the Labour Government’s latest lockdown announcement, Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “We await the full details, but it appears Labour have missed another opportunity to provide clarity and a detailed roadmap out of lockdown for people across Wales.
“Labour’s U-turn on the opening of non-essential retail at such short notice will be a hammer blow for many businesses, and the decision to now align with England in that area shows we could’ve adopted a similar roadmap weeks ago.
“The ongoing refusal by Labour ministers to do so will only increase frustration in the sectors worst hit by the pandemic and will put more Welsh jobs at risk.
“Sadly, the scant details are reflective of a Labour government that doesn’t trust the people of Wales and which we found out this week believes that Welsh people…“if you give them an inch they’ll take a mile.”
“People in Wales fully understand the pandemic can change course and Labour ministers need to start treating us like adults, cut out the political games, and provide a clear path and roadmap forward.”
The “stay at home” rule will become “stay local” and the Labour have said people should stick to a five-mile rule. Commenting on that aspect, Davies said: “I welcome the end of the “stay at home” regulation, which is possible due to the collective hard work of people across Wales.
“People are fully capable of understanding the “stay local” message and as such the arbitrary five-mile rule is unnecessary.”
Reacting to the announcement from the First Minister for Wales that garden centres can reopen from 22 March, the Chairman of the Horticultural Trades Association, James Barnes, said: “This is the news the industry has been waiting for. We are delighted the Welsh Government recognised that garden centres provide enhanced safe retailing with light, airy and outdoor spaces.
“The many benefits of plants, gardening and nature are well documented, and this decision means that people in Wales can once again easily access everything they need to maximise those benefits as we can all start to look to a happier Spring”.
HTA Council representative for Wales, and owner of Pugh’s Garden Village in South Wales, Nicola Pugh, said: “We are delighted by the news we can reopen our doors on 22 March. We are ready and waiting and have been working hard to ensure safe shopping for all our wonderful customers and growing a selection of beautiful plants locally at our nurseries to ensure that our benches are full to welcome gardeners back to our centres.”
Travel restrictions should be eased with “caution” with the “stay local” messaged introduced for as long as is “necessary” Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price has said.
The Plaid Cymru Leader was speaking ahead of the announcement.
Mr Price said that relaxation of restrictions should be done “slowly and steadily” and stressed the need for the “clearest plan possible” out of lockdown for businesses.
Adam Price MS said: “Travel restrictions should be eased with caution and the sensible approach is to reintroduce the “stay local” message for as long as is necessary – ensuring that guidance is tailored depending on where people live. Stay Local can mean different things in different parts of Wales – particularly rural Wales.
“Any relaxation of restrictions need to be done slowly and steadily. After all, we all want this lockdown to be the very last lockdown that we face.
“But above all, we support measures that aim to keep people safe, based on evidence, but people and businesses need the clearest plan possible about the road ahead of us.
“However, loneliness and isolation remain also a real challenge for many people, and we hope that the government will put a sharp focus on when and how it will be safe to return to extended household bubbles. We also cannot ignore the mental health crisis which has been brought about because of the pandemic. It is vital that everything possible is done to enable gyms to be among the first facilities to reopen.