Wales will enter a two-week “firebreak” lockdown at 6pm on Friday in an attempt to protect the country’s NHS from being overwhelmed by the resurgence of coronavirus.
The Welsh Government has said the “sharp and deep” lockdown, brought in to coincide with half-term holidays, could be enough to avoid a longer and “much more damaging national lockdown” in the months ahead.
Under the measures, which will last 17 days until November 9, people will be asked to stay at home and to leave only for a limited number of reasons, including exercise, buying essential supplies, or to seek or provide care.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said supermarkets would only be able to sell “essential” items during the firebreak to ensure a “level playing field” for retailers forced to shut. They will not be allowed to sell things such as clothing and hardware.
Critics said the announcement would cause “confusion” and urged the Welsh Government to publish a list of retailers that will have to close.
The Welsh Conservative’s leader in the Senedd, Paul Davies, told the PA news agency that the Welsh Government needed to ensure the two week period wasn’t “wasted”, and called for more data supporting the decision for a “disproportionate” nationwide lockdown to be published.
He said: “For months we’ve been calling for the publication of community by community cases, demographic data and how the virus is transmitted. It is essential that transmission data is published so that people can see how and where the virus is transmitted – their homes, work, transport or elsewhere.
“It is concerning that the Welsh Government’s actions show that they either don’t have this data or it doesn’t support their monumental decision to lock Wales down again.
“If the Welsh Government want to take the people of Wales down further rolling lockdowns in the future, they need to be open and transparent along the way.”
Mr Davies also called on the Welsh Government to “get to grips” with its testing regime, after the First Minister conceded the country currently was not able to make full use out of its 15,000 tests-a-day capacity.
“Currently on average only 3,000 tests are done per day by Welsh laboratories, with the UK Government carrying out more than 6,000 tests a day in Wales”, he said.
“The Welsh Government needs a plan to fully utilise the testing capacity in Wales.”
Under the “firebreak”, people will be encouraged to work from home if possible, with the exception of essential workers.
People will not be able to meet indoors or outdoors with anyone they do not live with, with exceptions for those living alone.
All non-essential retail, leisure, hospitality and tourism businesses will close, along with community centres, libraries and recycling centres, while places of worship will also be shut other than for funerals or wedding ceremonies.
Business owners in Welshpool on the Welsh border have questioned the necessity for the two-week lockdown, saying they were effectively being tarred with the same brush as places such as Cardiff and Swansea.
Terri-Ann Ratledge, landlady of The Grapes pub, said she felt “victimised” by the new lockdown.
“We’re being tarred with the same brush and the same restrictions as what the big cities are. It’s just not bad round here and people are considerate because it’s a small community,” she said.
Tammy Weaver, owner of wedding services firm TMS Events in Four Crosses, Montgomeryshire, described 2020 as a “wipe out” for her business.
“We don’t really see light at the end of the tunnel because of the implications of the restrictions both in England and in Wales,” she said.
Ms Weaver also criticised the decision to impose the circuit-breaker for the whole of Wales.
“We feel a bit confused and upset by the decision,” she said.
“We just feel we are such a small area and Montgomeryshire is a safe area and everybody is abiding by the rules.”
Childcare facilities will stay open in Wales, with primary and specialist schools reopening after the half-term break.
Secondary schools will also reopen after half-term for children in years seven and eight, as well as the most vulnerable students.
And universities will provide a blend of in-person and online learning, but students will be required to stay at their accommodation.