Covid transmissions linked to supermarkets, Mark Drakeford says

Stricter rules for supermarkets are needed in Wales due to "significant evidence" that coronavirus is spreading among customers and staff, the First Minister has said.

Mark Drakeford said retailers will now be legally required to display signs for social distancing, provide sanitiser for hands and trolleys, and limit the number of customers allowed inside at any one time.

The new rules announced on Friday are part of a package of new measures introduced following concerns that a faster spreading variant of Covid-19 is behind a spike of transmissions across Wales.

Essential retailers like supermarkets have already been subject to guidance measures in order to protect the public's health, but things like ensuring one-way systems are used and managing the flow of customers will now be put into law.

Mr Drakeford said the move was in response to concerns that the "visible signs of protection" in stores had reduced in recent weeks, and to give confidence to both staff and shoppers.

"Many of our retailers are already operating at these high standards. What this does is to make it clear that bar will be raised so that all places that people are able to shop meet those standards," he said.

Mr Drakeford told the Welsh Government's press briefing that there was also "significant evidence" through Wales's Test, Trace, Protect (TTP) system that transmissions were taking place in stores and other workplaces.

"They certainly detect both shoppers and members of staff who find themselves positive for the virus, and where it is likely that would have been contracted in a supermarket," he said.

Mr Drakeford has said it is the "responsibility of owners and managers" to make sure rules like regular announcements over Tannoys and markings on floors are observed.

He said the responsibility should not fall to supermarket workers following reports of some receiving abuse for trying to enforce existing rules.

"To be completely clear, it is entirely unacceptable that retail staff who have done so much to help us all during this pandemic – going into work every day to make sure that there's food we can put on the table – it is entirely unacceptable that those people should face abuse in the workplace," he said.

Mr Drakeford said specific Covid-19 risk assessments will now also have to be carried out by any business which employs five or more people to help prevent the spread of the new strain.

They include things like making sure there is adequate ventilation, making sure people are physically distancing and using PPE, and to consider whether their employees can work from home.

From Monday, passengers planning to travel into Wales from outside the Common Travel Area will also have to prove to their carrier that they have tested negative for Covid-19 up to 72 hours before their departure.

A mandatory 10-day quarantine for arrivals will remain in place for passengers arriving from countries not on the Welsh Government's travel ban list, regardless of their pre-departure test result.

Wales remains in its Alert Level 4 lockdown restrictions, travel for a holiday into the country is not permitted, and people must stay at home unless travelling for essential reasons.

Mr Drakeford told Friday's press briefing there may be "marginal easements" to lockdown rules in Wales if rates continue to fall, with the country's incidence rate having dropped to 365 cases per 100,000 people compared to "well above" 400 cases per 100,000 a week ago.

"We certainly won't see reductions in hospital occupation moving as fast as the community falls because we know there's always a delay," he said.

"Even if you're not able to go from Level 4 to Level 3, within Level 4 it may be possible – and it's a may, I really want to stress that it's a may – to have some marginal easements and that would demonstrate to people that the efforts they are making are making a difference."

Around 300,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been delivered to Wales, with Mr Drakeford saying the figure "in very broad terms" was made up of 50,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and 250,000 of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Public Health Wales said a total of 126,375 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had been given by 10pm on Thursday, an increase of 13,402 from the previous day, while 129 second doses have been given, an increase of eight.

The agency said there were a further 1,808 cases of Covid-19 in Wales, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 177,864.

It reported another 54 deaths, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 4,171.