Mark Drakeford MS, First Minister
The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 (‘the Regulations’) place a series of restrictions on gatherings, the movement of people, and the operation of businesses, including closures. They also impose requirements on businesses, which are open to take reasonable measures to ensure physical distancing between people. They are designed to help protect people from the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
Under regulation 3(2), Welsh Ministers are required to review the need for the requirements and restrictions in the regulations, and their proportionality, every 21 days. The fourth review was held on 18 June.
The review was informed by the medical and scientific evidence about coronavirus in Wales – from the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), from the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Cell (TAC) and the advice of the Chief Medical Officer for Wales (CMO).
The advice from the World Health Organisation, SAGE and TAC is that modifying lockdown measures can have a cumulative effect and changes should therefore be incremental and carefully monitored. This is the approach we have adopted for previous reviews and we will continue to follow this approach.
In reviewing the regulations, we have carefully considered the impact the regulations and restrictions have had on the virus and its transmission in Wales to date. The reproduction value of the virus (R) remains below one.
The number of new confirmed cases of coronavirus has fallen steadily since the peak in April and has been below 100 every day during June. The number of people admitted to hospital with coronavirus is falling steadily and there are currently 33 people in critical care in Wales being treated for coronavirus – this is 80% lower than in April.
The number of deaths reported every day by Public Health Wales is lower than at this time three weeks ago, and are at their lowest point since lockdown began. The Office for National Statistics’ weekly figures show the number of deaths from coronavirus has fallen every week for six weeks.
The NHS is beginning to resume more routine services and we have rolled out contact tracing throughout Wales, enabling us to identify and isolate new cases and hotspots of coronavirus swiftly.
The advice of the Chief Medical Officer is that we should take advantage of the summer months where there are more opportunities to be outdoors in the open air and we should cautiously move our focus towards reducing the wider economic and societal impacts of the pandemic.
All these factors, when taken together, provide us with the headroom to introduce a package of measures to ease restrictions in a proportionate manner over the next three weeks and to consider some further steps, if the conditions continue to improve.
We will introduce changes to the regulations from Monday 22 June to enable non-essential retail businesses to re-open where they can take all reasonable measures to comply with the physical distancing duty, which will help to protect both employees and customers from coronavirus. I am grateful to all those businesses, which have used the last three weeks to prepare.
To support a return to work for more people, there will be a gradual reopening of childcare facilities, operating under new guidelines developed with the sector. To help reduce the risk of transmission, we are asking that children attend just one setting wherever possible. If a child attends more than one setting, such as school and childcare, they should remain in the same, small consistent group across both.
The evidence shows that coronavirus survives for a matter of minutes on surfaces outdoors. In light of this, we will ease restrictions on outdoor sports courts but not for contact or team sports. Social distancing should be maintained at all times.
Amendments will also be made to the regulations to enable non-professional elite athletes, such as our Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, to return to training.
We will make the first step in reopening our housing market by making changes to allow viewings to take place in vacant properties and house moves where a sale has been agreed, but not yet completed. We will continue to work with the sector to consider the next steps for future review cycles.
We will also bring forward amendments to allow for private prayer in places of worship where social distancing is maintained and gatherings do not take place. I am grateful to the work with faith leaders, which has been ongoing since April and which has led to the development of guidance.
Later today I will make the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) (Amendment) (No 6) Regulations 2020, which will reflect the legislative changes I have set out here and which will enable these changes to come into effect on Monday.
On Monday 29 June, pupils will return to school, under the plans previously announced by the Education Minister, to check in, catch up and prepare for summer and September.
We must not be complacent. Although the spread of infection is reducing, coronavirus still presents a threat to public health in Wales. We are therefore continuing to require people to stay in their local area unless they have a reasonable excuse to travel further, to only meet one other household outdoors and to require certain businesses, such as bars and restaurants, to remain closed for the time being.
But given the improving picture we will review the requirement to stay local, with a view to lifting it in two weeks’ time on 6 July, if the conditions allow. I would urge local communities, local authorities and outdoor visitor attractions to use this period to prepare for reopening. A final decision will be based on the latest scientific and medical evidence and advice and how the virus is behaving in Wales.
The current requirement to stay local and not generally travel more than five miles from home will therefore remain in place until that decision is made.
We will however, make it clear that travel outside a person’s local area is permitted on compassionate grounds, for example to visit a loved one who needs help or to visit someone at a care home outdoors or at a youth offender institution – when visits are allowed. This will also apply to people living in Wales who are eligible to vote in elections overseas, in those cases where voting can only be done in person.
As we begin to think about the next formal 21-day review, which will be carried out on 9 July, I am asking some businesses to begin to take steps to prepare now, in the event the conditions will be right to make further changes to the regulations.
The specific areas are:
- Preparations for reopening the visitor economy, including accommodation without shared facilities where social distancing is possible.
- Preparations for restarting personal care services by appointment, including hairdressing.
Over the next three weeks there will also be detailed discussions between the Welsh Government and the sector about the options and potential phases for opening the hospitality sector – pubs, cafes, restaurants – under social distancing, and if we continue to see a reduction in the spread of coronavirus.
This package marks a significant unlocking of the regulations and, for many aspects of daily life in Wales, we are moving into the amber phase of our traffic light system.
We have been able to do this because of the actions everyone in Wales has taken to date in complying with the stay-at-home and stay local rules.
We need everyone to continue to take steps to protect themselves and their loved ones as we find a way to live and work alongside coronavirus. This means working from home wherever possible; maintaining social distancing and frequent handwashing. For some people it may mean wearing a face covering in certain situations, for others it will mean continuing to shield.
I want to thank everyone for everything they have done so far. Together we can keep Wales safe.