Lockdown fines in Wales could rise, First Minister says

Wales could increase its lockdown fines following reports of visitors from England flouting the country’s travel restrictions, the First Minister has said.

Mark Drakeford said he was in talks with the country’s four police forces after two police and crime commissioners called for steeper charges for those breaking Wales’s ban on non-essential travel.

On Monday Public Health Wales said a further four people had died after testing positive for coronavirus, taking the Welsh total to 1,207, while another 101 positive tests brought total confirmed cases to 12,404, although the true figure is likely to be higher.

Mr Drakeford highlighted examples of people ignoring lockdown rules over the weekend, including a family of four from Birmingham caught at Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons, and a driver coming from Devon to Brecon to buy dog food.

He also told the Welsh Government’s daily Covid-19 press briefing he was “very concerned” about reports of police being assaulted, including being coughed and spat on.

HEALTH Coronavirus Wales
HEALTH Coronavirus Wales

Mr Drakeford said: “All of these are unacceptable, as it is unacceptable for people who live in Wales to travel distances to other parts of Wales.

“Our message is simple: stay at home and stay local because that way we save lives.

“We remain in discussion with the chief constables and the police and crime commissioners about the level of fines in Wales, and I’m very grateful to them for having submitted additional evidence to us, which we will now consider.

“If the evidence demonstrates that there is a problem which can be solved by raising the level of fines in Wales, then of course we are prepared to discuss that with our chief constables.”

Fines in Wales begin at £60 and go up to £120 for repeat offenders, but can be reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days.

In England fines begin at £100, reduced to £50 if paid promptly, and can go up to £3,200 for repeat offenders.

Other reports over the weekend included officers in Pembrokeshire stopping a van containing three people from Bristol travelling to a beach, and a van stopped in Llanteg having travelled 200 miles from Wokingham in Berkshire.

It comes after lockdown rules were relaxed in England so people can now “drive to other destinations” and meet one person outside their households outdoors, while in Wales the stricter stay-at-home rules remain in force.

Despite the reports Mr Drakeford said traffic on Wales’s roads was “well below” last year’s levels, and the number of lockdown fines handed out last week was half of that issued over the most recent bank holiday.

When asked about Wales’s decision to scrap an online platform for key workers to book coronavirus tests in favour of a UK-wide system, Mr Drakeford said it was because “data issues” with the latter, which meant results would not have been reported to the Welsh NHS, had been “ironed out”.

Some 1,000 people are thought to have accessed testing kits from England before the data issues were corrected, meaning they will not have been recorded into the NHS in Wales, Mr Drakeford said.

“Quite how that happened, I’m not certain, because that’s not how the system was meant to operate. Those people will have had, I believe, the tests results themselves,” he said.

Mr Drakeford said he did not have a figure for how much money had already been spent on the Wales-only system, but that he had asked for one to be drawn together.

He also denied he had been slow to extend Wales’s testing policy to all care homes regardless of whether there had been an outbreak, with Plaid Cymru calling for an inquiry into why the decision was not made sooner.

Mr Drakeford said: “Governments act on advice. Ministers don’t pluck policies out of the air – they rely on the advice that we are given.

“The advice changed on Thursday and we made the decision on Friday, and we published it on Saturday. I don’t think anybody can say we were slow to follow the advice.”

Asked to explain what had changed in the scientific advice given to him, Mr Drakeford said he was unsure he could “help much more in explaining the advice”, adding: “My job as the minister is not to try and make myself a scientific expert. It is to act on the scientific advice that experts give us.”