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Lockdown restrictions extended for further three weeks in Wales

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Lockdown restrictions in Wales have been extended for a further three weeks, though three “small adjustments” are due to come into force on Monday.

First Minister Mark Drakeford told a press conference in Cardiff that the latest evidence showed the first peak of coronavirus infections had been passed in the country.

He said Wales’ chief medical officer Frank Atherton had warned it was too soon to lift lockdown restrictions as it would lead to a “return of the virus”.

However, Mr Drakeford said three “very small and modest adjustments” could be made as part of Wales’ preference for a four-nation approach to easing lockdown.

“The first will be to the once-a-day exercise rule because the more we learn about coronavirus, the evidence shows us that the risk of infection is reduced outdoors,” he said.

“We will adjust our regulations to allow people to go outside to exercise more than once per day but we will strengthen our regulations to make it clearer that that exercise must be local.

“It should begin and end at home and it should not involve any significant travel away from home.

“Our second planned change to the regulations is to allow garden centres to reopen, provided the social distancing rules can be applied.

“Thirdly, we propose changing the regulations to allow local authorities to begin planning how to safely reopen libraries and municipal recycling centres.

“These very cautious changes will apply to everyone other than the 120,000 people in the shielding group.

“It’s really important that people in that group continue to follow the shielding advice they have received from the chief medical officer.”

Mr Drakeford said it was for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to decide the steps that would be taken in England.

But he added: “I don’t believe that we will see anywhere in the United Kingdom anything other than the most modest of immediate changes.”

The R value – the number of people the average infected individual would spread the virus to – in Wales is currently around 0.8.

Mr Drakeford said even an increase from 0.8 to 1.1 would see hospital admissions “take off” and allow coronavirus to “spiral back to where it was”.

He said in terms of deaths, the difference between the two rates was 800 and 7,200 over the next three months.

The R value is believed to be slightly higher in care homes than the community level in Wales, though Mr Drakeford said the evidence was not precise enough to give a “definitive” figure.

Signs on the A470 near Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons National Park (Ben Birchall/PA)
Signs on the A470 near Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons National Park (Ben Birchall/PA)

Ministers in Wales must review the need for the requirements and restrictions in the regulations every 21 days.

The measures, first introduced in March, impost strict restrictions on gatherings, the movement of people and the operation of businesses, including closures, in Wales.

Speaking after the extension of the lockdown, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said the Welsh Government must now “significantly step up” plans to test and trace cases.

“It is impossible to overemphasise the stay at home message, with the reproduction number in Wales, which measures transmission, so perilously close to an exponential increase in the number of deaths,” Mr Price said.

“We welcome the cautious approach adopted by the First Minister in his statement today, and implore the UK Prime Minister not to implement an England-wide relaxation of restrictions that would completely undermine this approach and potentially have a disastrous impact on Wales.”

On Friday, Public Health Wales said a total of 1,090 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus, an increase of 28 on Thursday’s figures.

A further 152 people tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 11,003.

There are 677 people in hospital in Wales with confirmed coronavirus and 343 suspected cases.

Of those previously admitted to hospital, about 2,800 people have recovered and been discharged.

Dr Robin Howe, of Public Health Wales, said it welcomed the announcement that lockdown will continue for a further three weeks.

“We seem to have passed the peak and flattened the curve of new cases of novel coronavirus in Wales, which appears to be an indication of the effectiveness of lockdown measures,” he said.

“We are currently working with Welsh Government to determine the best approach for when the lockdown is eventually eased.”

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