Short, sharp lockdown considered to tackle virus in Wales – Mark Drakeford

The Welsh Government is looking “very carefully” at introducing a time-limited circuit-breaker lockdown in Wales, the First Minister has confirmed.

Mark Drakeford said the “short, sharp” lockdown could last for between two and three weeks, with a decision due to be announced on Monday.

The Welsh Labour leader also suggested Wales could introduce a new set of national restrictions after a successful reset of the virus, after warning around 2,500 people in the country are currently being infected every day.

It was also confirmed that a travel ban preventing people from areas of the UK with high levels of coronavirus from entering Wales will come into force from 6pm on Friday.

The restriction will prevent travel to Wales from areas in England in Tier 2 or 3, as well as the central belt of Scotland, the whole of Northern Ireland, and any other areas which are categorised as high prevalence in future.

Speaking at the Welsh Government’s Covid-19 press briefing on Friday afternoon, Mr Drakeford said introducing a circuit-break is the “the option that is most actively under consideration” for reducing levels of Covid-19.

He said: “We are looking very carefully at introducing a time-limited firebreak, also known as a circuit-breaker, of the type recommended by Sage, the UK’s expert scientific advisory group, and by our own advisers here in Wales.

“This would be a short, sharp shock to the virus which could turn back the clock, slowing down its spread and buying us more time and vital capacity in the health service.

“A firebreak would also, however, be a short, sharp shock to all our lives. We will all have to stay at home once again, to save those lives.

“But this time, it will be for weeks and not months. We are considering a two or three-week firebreak. The shorter the period, the sharper the measures will have to be.”

The introduction of local lockdowns in 17 areas of Wales affecting more than 2.3 million people had slowed the virus, he said, but had “not worked enough”.

Mr Drakeford said ministers will meet over the weekend to discuss the circuit-breaker option and announce any decisions on Monday.

But he said the country will only stand a chance of getting through the Christmas period if the circuit-break is followed by “a new set of national rules for the whole of Wales”.

No detail was given about what a new set of Wales-wide restrictions could look like.

“These are incredibly difficult decisions and we have not yet come to a final conclusion about whether a firebreak is the best way to act,” Mr Drakeford added.

Before the press conference, Mr Drakeford confirmed in a statement that Wales would bring in the travel ban for UK coronavirus hotspots after he said Boris Johnson had again failed to agree to impose one himself.

The restrictions are intended to help stop the virus moving from urban, highly populated areas with a high prevalence of the virus elsewhere in the UK to more sparsely populated locations in Wales where levels of the infection are currently low.

HEALTH Coronavirus Wales
HEALTH Coronavirus Wales

The First Minister said he could not give a guaranteed date for the travel ban to end, saying it would “depend upon the way that events and circumstances unfold over the next couple of weeks”.

He added: “As I’ve said many times, the fewer people we meet, the fewer journeys we make, the safer we all are, and our arrangements on travel are just designed to reinforce all of that.

“So, while they are necessary to turn back the flow of this deadly virus, while they are necessary to protect our NHS, while they’re necessary to save people’s lives, then those arrangements will have to stay in place.”

He denied his relationship with Mr Johnson is “dead in the water” following a war of words between Cardiff Bay and Westminster, revealing he had received a “reasonably toned” letter from the Prime Minister on Thursday in which he reaffirmed a commitment to work together during the pandemic.

But Mr Drakeford added: “I think it’s damaging to the United Kingdom when we have border disputes, and I wish the Prime Minister had acted differently.”