Mark Drakeford denies using Covid restrictions to influence election

Changes to restrictions mean Wales will now complete its move to Alert Level 3 by May 3 – three days before the May 6 Senedd election.

Mark Drakeford
Mark Drakeford

First Minister Mark Drakeford has denied that his decision to bring forward the easing of some restrictions in Wales by two weeks is to do with the forthcoming Senedd election.

The Welsh Labour leader said the changes are due to the creation of “extra headroom” in the public health situation amid criticism from opposition parties.

Indoor supervised activities for children, indoor organised activities for up to 15 adults such as exercise classes, and the reopening of community centres are being brought forward from May 17 to May 3.

It means Wales will now complete its move to Alert Level 3 by May 3 – three days before the election – but the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru have accused Mr Drakeford of using his powers as well as Welsh Government press briefings to unfairly influence the forthcoming election.

Asked about the criticism by opposition parties, Mr Drakeford told Sky News on Friday: “If I had to be announcing more difficult news today, opposition parties would be demanding that I was there making that announcement.

“I make that announcement every three weeks. I’ve had to do it on some very difficult days when the news has not been good.

“Today I have to return to the podium, as I have every three weeks, to let people in Wales know the assessment of the current state of the virus in Wales, the decisions we’re able to make on their behalf, our assessment of what can happen in the future, and to remind people in Wales that coronavirus is by no means over.”

Mr Drakeford told BBC Radio 5 Live that Wales’s rates of Covid-19 are now the lowest in the United Kingdom and its vaccination rates the highest, which has “created some extra headroom for us” to ease rules further.

But he warned the public to remain vigilant as more freedoms are returned over the coming weeks.

“Three weeks ago the prevalence rate was 35 per 100,000. That’s today fallen to less than half of that, it’s below 15. We need now to see those numbers held up where they are,” he said.

“The more you open up society, it’s inevitable coronavirus will begin to circulate. So, my message to people in Wales today will be that coronavirus is not over.

“We all have to go on being vigilant. We all have to go on doing the things that make a real difference and has led us being in today’s benign position.”

Mr Drakeford also said Wales is seeing the “positive effects of vaccination”, with a reduction in the number of people becoming seriously ill from Covid-19 and needing hospital treatment.

Indoor hospitality and all tourist accommodation in Wales is expected to reopen on May 17 after the First Minister added further dates to the country’s Covid-19 road map.

He said it will be for the incoming Welsh Government to confirm the reopening, but the main opposition parties have already committed to the same date if they win the May 6 Senedd election.

WALES Election
(PA Graphics)

Other changes expected by May 17 include reopening indoor entertainment venues and attractions, with more changes “subject to the public health situation remaining favourable”.

The dates for indoor hospitality and tourism accommodation brings Wales in line with the reopening dates in England.

Wales has the lowest level of virus infections in the UK and is third in the world in terms of vaccine delivery.

From Monday, outdoor hospitality can reopen and up to six people can meet outdoors with no limit on the number of households they can come from, not including children under 11 years of age or carers from those households.

Outdoor attractions including swimming pools, funfairs and theme parks, as well as outdoor organised activities and wedding receptions, both for up to 30 people, can also take place.

From May 3, gyms and leisure centres can reopen, and people can form extended households with one other household.

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