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Non-essential shops in Wales could reopen next month, says Drakeford

Mid Wales | Coronavirus | Published:

The First Minister indicated further relaxing of lockdown rules, before defending his ‘stay local’ five-mile restriction on travel.

Barry Island, Wales

High-street shops, markets and sports courts in Wales could open next month with a further easing of lockdown measures, the First Minister has said.

Mark Drakeford said retail businesses which can adhere to the two-metre distance rule should start to prepare to reopen over the next three weeks.

The Welsh Government will make a decision on non-essential retailers at the next review of coronavirus measures on June 18, after taking into account scientific and medical evidence.

Coronavirus cases in Wales
(PA Graphics)

Mr Drakeford indicated further relaxing of lockdown rules at Friday’s daily press briefing, where he was also forced to defend the Government’s decision to impose a five-mile limit on its new “stay local” regulations.

It came as Public Health Wales said a further 10 people had died after testing positive for Covid-19, taking its total to 1,317 deaths, though the true number is known to be more than 2,000.

The number of positive cases also grew by 102 to a total of 13,827.

Mr Drakeford said: “I understand that we’re talking about people’s businesses and livelihoods.

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“We’re talking about things people were previously able to do and do it in a very straightforward way.

“We’ve learned a lot, and I want that knowledge to be applied to the non-essential retail sector.

“But to be clear with people, the way we do things in Wales is, we prepare and make things safe, and then we change the law. Not the other way around.”

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Next month’s review will also look at increasing capacity for childcare and public transport to help people return to work, help people moving into new homes, reopening outdoor sites, including outdoor showrooms and outdoor museums, and reopening training facilities for non-professional elite athletes.

When asked if he would consider revising the two-metre distance rule in Wales to allow businesses which are unable to keep to it to reopen, the first minister said the Sage scientific advisory panel had issued advice to “stick with it”.

But he warned that the Welsh Government did not have the resources to cover furloughed workers’ wages, ahead of an announcement by Chancellor Rishi Sunak that employers will be asked to contribute about 20% of workers’ wages from August.

He said the Government was in discussions with affected sectors so they could continue using financial help already available through the Welsh Government’s £500m economic resilience fund.

Mr Drakeford was also forced to defend the five-mile limit outlined in Wales’ new “stay local” guidelines, which from Monday will allow an unlimited amount of people from two different households to meet up outdoors, including beaches and parks.

Easing the lockdown in Wales
(PA Graphics)

The outdoor allowance was said to be in response to people wanting to see families and friends, but opposition parties accused the Welsh Government of being unfair to rural residents who lived further away from their loved ones.

Mr Drakeford said people would have to “use their own judgment in local geographies”.

“If you have to travel a longer distance than five miles now to get food or medicines, you would be allowed to do that under the stay-at-home regulations, and you are allowed to do so under the stay-local regulations as well,” he said.

“What I’m asking people to do is to use that judgment seriously and soberly.

“The further you travel, the greater the risk that is posed to yourself and others of coronavirus ending up in parts of Wales where we’ve succeeded in keeping it to a minimum.

“Nobody, I think, wants to do that.”

Mr Drakeford said he believes people in Wales are “comfortable with the careful and cautious approach”, and that he had received letters from residents who were “horrified” at scenes of crowded beaches and beauty spots in England.

On Friday Mr Drakeford said Wales had “limited headroom” for relaxing restrictions, as the R infection rate in the country remains at 0.8 and was falling more slowly than expected.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The R rate across Wales is no better today than it was three weeks ago, which is why we have only limited headroom to make any difference.

“And that is why we decided to focus on this one measure to allow households to see one another.”

Mr Drakeford also told Good Morning Britain that the new guidelines were not an “invitation” to meet up.

“Running to people’s houses, sitting in gardens close together, having a beer and it all breaking down – that’s definitely not what we are proposing in Wales.”

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