Firebreak ‘gives people best chance of seeing each other at Christmas’

Wales’ firebreak lockdown will give people the “best chance” of seeing each other over Christmas, Health Minister Vaughan Gething has said.

The two-week series of measures, which include a ban on the sale of non-essential goods in shops allowed to remain open, came into force at 6pm on Friday and will last until November 9.

People can only leave their home for limited reasons, such as to buy food and medicine, provide care or take exercise, and they must work from home where possible.

All non-essential retail, leisure, hospitality and tourism businesses are closed, along with community centres, libraries and recycling centres, while places of worship are shut other than for funerals or wedding ceremonies.

Areas of supermarkets have been cordoned off (Adam Hale/PA)
Areas of supermarkets have been cordoned off (Adam Hale/PA)

On Saturday, Mr Gething told BBC Breakfast that scientists believed the lockdown would reduce the R value – the number of people each coronavirus case infects – to below one.

This would lead to a “national reset” of coronavirus spread, with a new set of measures being brought in across Wales after November 9.

When asked about what Christmas would look like for families, Mr Gething told BBC Breakfast that he could not provide “certainty”.

“We want to be able to get to Christmas with people able to see each other, but we have to look at where we are with the virus, how we’re behaving in Wales, whether we’re able to effectively suppress it after the firebreak.

“This gives us the best chance of doing that, but if I were to tell you what Christmas looks like today then I’d be making it up, I’d be giving people false hope, and that’s absolutely what we should not be doing.

“Trust between the public, the health service and ministers making decisions is hugely important.

“That’s why we publish so much information, it’s why we don’t give outlandish promises when asked to forecast the future several months away.

“I’d much rather be upfront about that than give a misleading promise about what the future will look like. The uncertainty we’re living in is clear.”

Restaurants are closed during the firebreak period (Ben Birchall/PA)
Restaurants are closed during the firebreak period (Ben Birchall/PA)

Mr Gething said the rate of coronavirus across Wales was 156.8 cases per 100,000 people on Friday – with only one county under the Welsh Government’s “threshold for action” of 50 cases per 100,000.

Economists have estimated that the firebreak could cost the Welsh economy more than £500 million.

“It’s not just about the direct cost within the firebreak, when we know there will be a challenge and a loss in terms of economic activity,” Mr Gething told the BBC.

“It’s about saving a much greater loss if we need to have longer, deeper, more sustained measures.

“We also recognise the period leading up to the end of the year is hugely significant for the economy as well.

“In acting now, we’re both arresting what we know will be harm coming into our hospital system, arresting the number of deaths we could otherwise expect, giving us a better opportunity to have a national set of measures that people can and will follow.

“That will actually be good news for the economy in a key period of the year.”

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But Andrew RT Davies, shadow health minister for the Welsh Conservatives, told Sky News that he did not believe that the whole of Wales needed to go into lockdown.

Mr Davies accused First Minister Mark Drakeford of “overreaching” and said a more localised and targeted approach would have been “more effective and less damaging”.

“If you ask the First Minister himself, he can’t predict what the outcomes of this lockdown are going to be,” Mr Davies said.

“But what we do know is that it’s going to be devastating economically.”

Mr Davies also criticised the Welsh Government’s ban on the sale of non-essential items in Wales during the lockdown.

“I never thought I’d live in an era where aisles in supermarkets were blanked off because you couldn’t buy hairdryers or you couldn’t buy baby clothes, or toys for children, when the store is open,” he said.

On Friday, 761 further cases of coronavirus were reported in Wales, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 40,253.

Public Health Wales said 13 people with coronavirus had died, with the total number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic rising to 1,756.