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'Barking mad': Welsh 'five-mile' travel plan criticised by MP

By Dominic Robertson | Mid Wales | Coronavirus | Published:

Plans for people in Wales to be allowed to meet up with others up to five miles from home have been described as "utterly barking mad" by an MP.

Social distancing

Craig Williams, MP for Montgomeryshire said that the proposals have clearly been "thought up by a city-focussed government", and that a five-mile restriction would not even get many residents to a supermarket in the county "let alone family or friends".

Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford said a relaxing of lockdown rules meant people from two different households will be able to meet as long as they do not travel more than five miles.

Under new "stay local" guidelines, which replace the "stay at home" message previously used by the Welsh Government, people will still need to observe social distancing when meeting in public or private outdoor spaces.

Exceptions will allow for travelling to work, to seek care, and shopping for essentials if they are not available locally.

Mr Williams said: "I think the five mile rule is utterly barking mad. It is clearly a line thought up by a city-focussed government.

"Five miles? Most people cannot get to a supermarket or a shop in Montgomeryshire, let alone to family and friends."

Mr Williams added: "Hopefully they will relax the five-mile rule for rural areas."

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The Conservative MP did say he was pleased Wales was moving closer to England in terms of approach to lockdown rules.

He said the countries would benefit from a unified approach – particularly because the UK government is funding a number of schemes such as the furlough policy.

Conservative Montgomeryshire MP Craig Williams

He said: "I am delighted that England and Wales seem to be coming together and we seem to be seeing a UK approach.

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"At the end of the day it has to happen because the schemes like furloughing are paid for by the UK Government, as well as other support mechanisms, so as we come out of lockdown we have to come out together because a lot of money is coming from the exchequer."

Speaking ahead of the announcement, Mr Drakeford said: "We know people have missed seeing their families and friends over the last three months while the stay-at-home regulations have been in place.

"From Monday, people from two different households in the same local area will be able to meet up outdoors. They must continue to maintain social distancing and strict hand hygiene.

"We are also asking people to stay local - by local we mean, as a general rule, not travelling more than five miles from home to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading as people begin to travel more.

"There will be exceptions - for example, travelling to work, to seek care and shopping for essentials if they aren't available locally.

"Staying local will help keep Wales safe."

'Unfit for purpose'

Russell George, Welsh Parliament member for Montgomeryshire, echoed Mr Williams' thoughts.

He said: “A five-mile travel ban for meeting friends and family will let people travel from one side of Cardiff to the other, but in rural Montgomeryshire, it won’t let many people travel to their nearest town or village. It is therefore unfit for purpose for much of rural Mid Wales.

Russell George

“This policy is arbitrary and it is unfair to say to many families, who haven't seen each other for months, that they cannot mix.

"For many people this will mean they will see grandparents and grandchildren reunited in the garden next door, while they are left isolated.

"After many weeks of restrictions, the Welsh Government would have been better to stress that people should exercise their own best judgement rather than to set an arbitrary rule of five miles.

"For me, I believe that we all need to exercise common sense and personal responsibility, interpreting the rules based on our own individual circumstances while adhering to important social distancing and personal hygiene guidelines.

"This announcement was also a huge missed opportunity to say something positive to businesses in Mid Wales.

"The Welsh Government needs to support business to help reduce the risk of our local economy in Mid Wales slipping further towards a recession and allow those many businesses which are ready to implement proper social distancing to re-open their premises to get the economy moving again."

On Thursday, Public Health Wales announced a further 14 people had died after testing positive for Covid-19, bringing its total confirmed deaths to 1,307, though the true number is known to be more than 2,000.

In Powys Public Health Wales has only confirmed 13 deaths but statistics from the Office for National Statistics show 84 people are thought to have died.

Another 72 cases of the virus were also reported, bringing the total of confirmed cases in Wales so far to 13,725.

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