Welsh First Minister asks PM to urgently consider travel restrictions in England

Wales’s First Minister has asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson to urgently consider imposing travel restrictions in areas of England with high levels of coronavirus infections.

Mark Drakeford, in a letter to Mr Johnson, said people living in such areas in England can travel long distances, potentially “spreading the virus well beyond their locality”.

In Wales, people must not enter or leave areas subjected to local lockdown restrictions without a reasonable excuse such as going to work.

Travelling into or out of such an area for a holiday is not considered a reasonable excuse.

The letter to Mr Johnson said the restrictions, imposed in 12 areas of Wales and affecting more than 60% of the country’s population, reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.

On Tuesday, Public Health Wales said a further three people had died with coronavirus in Wales, with 366 people testing positive for Covid-19.

Mr Drakeford wrote: “I ask that you give urgent consideration to the introduction of similar travel restrictions in the current high infection areas of England to those we have here in Wales.

“This would be a significant step in lessening the risk that we collectively face, and give communities in border areas considerable reassurance that we are taking every possible step to protect them.

“Policy officials and lawyers from the Welsh Government would be happy to advise on the way these measures have been implemented in our areas of local restriction.

“Although we have implemented different policy responses in the four nations of the UK at different times during this pandemic, and, of course, this will continue, I urge you to consider these additional measures as part of our shared aim of public health protection for all four nations.”

Mr Drakeford asked for a further Cobra meeting to be “convened urgently to discuss this and other imminent challenges”.

The letter was also sent to leaders in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the Secretary of State for Wales.

On Tuesday, the issue was repeatedly raised in the Welsh Parliament.

Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, said there was nothing to stop people from a “Covid hotspot” in the UK travelling to parts of Wales with low transmission.

He asked why a person could not travel from Aberafan in Neath Port Talbot to Abergavenny in Monmouthshire, but could come from Manchester to Mynytho in Gwynedd.

Mr Drakeford replied that Mr Johnson should “prevent people from English hotspots from travelling elsewhere in England to Wales or other parts of the United Kingdom because of the risk that that undoubtedly poses”.

Arfon Jones, the police and crime commissioner for North Wales, also called for such restrictions.

He tweeted: “Conversations ongoing about local lockdowns in North Wales.

“Perhaps we could start by imposing restriction on travel from local lockdown areas in England similar to what the restrictions are in Wales. The virus comes along the A55 not the A470.”

Angela Burns, of the Welsh Conservatives, told the Senedd that businesses in the microtourism industry – such as eco-lodges and small campsites – had been badly affected by the pandemic.

She said a letter from Microtourism Wales highlighted how members were “dealing with confused guests looking to cancel or change their holidays because they do not understand the local lockdown policies”.

The Welsh Government has called on people across Wales to avoid making unnecessary journeys, which Ms Burns said was causing confusion for potential tourists from other parts of the country and in England.

Mr Drakeford and other Welsh ministers attended the Senedd on Tuesday by videolink from the Welsh Government offices in Cathays Park instead of in person.

Paul Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, described the decision as a “disregard for Welsh democracy”.

In response, Mr Drakeford said every member was able to participate remotely or in person, adding: “I say to people in Wales all the time that they should avoid unnecessary journeys.”

He also insisted he was “very committed” to proceeding with 2021 Senedd elections next May but said it was important that every citizen felt they could go to a polling station.

The 12 areas of Wales under local lockdown restrictions are: Caerphilly county borough, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport, Blaenau Gwent, Cardiff, Swansea, the town of Llanelli, Neath Port Talbot, the Vale of Glamorgan and Torfaen.

On Tuesday, the total figure for positive cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic in Wales reached 23,597.

The number of deaths in the country of people with coronavirus increased to 1,615.