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Covid: 'No case to extend Wales' lockdowns yet'

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media captionWales' First Minister Mark Drakeford urged people not to down their drinks ahead of the new pub curfew

There is "no case" for more areas to be locked down as new measures to control the rising Covid-19 rate need time to work, Wales' first minister has said.

Mark Drakeford said the six south Wales counties already in lockdown were the "trigger point" and efforts were being concentrated in those "hotspot" areas.

New Wales-wide measures include early closing times and table service for pubs, cafes and restaurants.

But lockdowns could be extended to new areas if necessary, he added.

From Thursday at 18:00 BST, licensed premises must stop serving alcohol at 22:00 and off-licences and supermarkets must stop selling alcohol at the same time.

He told BBC Breakfast: "There was not yet a case for extending those [local lockdown] measures to other local authorities, but we would keep them under very close and daily review."

He said the two "trigger points" for taking more action in the south Wales counties not yet under lockdown would be a rise in case numbers and the positivity rate.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionBridgend is one of six counties under lockdown after a spike in coronavirus cases

People in Caerphilly, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport and Blaenau Gwent are only allowed to enter or leave those counties for work, education, or a limited number of other essential reasons.

Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan, Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Anglesey, Conwy, Denbighshire and Flintshire are on a watch-list for monitoring, and could face lockdown if cases rise.

Essential travel only

On Tuesday, Mr Drakeford announced a £500 payment to support people on low income who were asked to self-isolate.

He also asked people to "only travel when you need to do so".

He reiterated people needed to continue working from home wherever possible and wear face coverings on public transport, in shops and in enclosed public spaces.

Mr Drakeford confirmed these measures at a coronavirus briefing on Wednesday.

Alcohol sales to stop at 22:00

This included clarifying the rule on pubs and restaurants to state that they had to stop serving alcohol at 22:00, rather than close completely, which he had said in the initial announcement on Tuesday evening.

He denied stopping alcohol sales at 22:00 was a "stab in the dark", saying there was evidence from Wales' local lockdown areas that a "small minority of people, late in the evening, when a lot of alcohol has been consumed, behave in ways that cause a risk to other people".

Speaking in the Senedd, he said: "Our system will allow people to drink up, to eat up, to bring their evening to an orderly close and then make their way home."

He said there was a "mixed picture" about the spread of coronavirus across the country with higher levels in south Wales where lockdowns had been introduced.

"But further west, and in parts of north Wales, the rates are much lower," he added.

He said people were being admitted to hospital needing treatment for the serious effects of coronavirus and - "very sadly" - in the last week, there were a number of deaths from coronavirus.

Testing had seen a "sharp rise" in demand - 70,000 last week compared to 64,000 the week before, the highest number of tests processed so far in one week.

He also told the briefing there was "no evidence" that visitors coming into Wales had led to spikes in infections.

"Coronavirus remains at its lowest levels in the holiday areas of Wales. The visitors we have had so far have been people who have acted responsibly and helped us to keep Wales safe."

Mr Drakeford said there was emerging evidence in Caerphilly, the first area to go into local lockdown, that enhanced measures to control the virus were working.

"Recent days have been encouraging. The numbers in Caerphilly have been coming down quite steadily over the last three or four days.

"We will need another couple of days to make sure that that is a sustained trend.

"My aim will be, if we are seeing a reliable improvement in Caerphilly, to begin to restore to people some of the freedoms we've had to withdraw from them."

What about Christmas?

Mr Drakeford said: "If [people] act together in that sense of social solidarity, it is still possible to turn the tide on this."

Asked about Christmas get-togethers, he said: "We will do everything we can and work as hard as we can so that people in Wales will still be able to meet their families, I'm afraid in this more restricted way, come December.

"That fight is still on by government doing what we can, our partners in the local authorities, health authorities and police, but most of all by each one of us in our own lives doing those simple things that we know add up to making the real difference.

"In that way come December we will still be able to get together with those people that mean the most to us and celebrate Christmas."

Can I go on holiday?

Mr Drakeford also told the Today programme that, despite the call for essential travel only, it was still "very possible" for people in Wales to have a holiday "without travelling very far at all".

"So people have got to make those decisions in their own circumstances, so we're not saying 'no holidays' to people," he said.

"But just think carefully, avoid unnecessary travel."

image copyrightRCAHMW
image captionTrecco Bay holiday park is one of the UK's largest

On Tuesday afternoon, Trecco Bay holiday park in Porthcawl, Bridgend county, announced it was closing at 18:00 BST, giving people just hours to pack up and leave the site.

The site was fully occupied, meaning about 4,000 people had to leave the same afternoon.

Steve Richards, chief executive of Parkdean, which runs the park, said he had taken the decision because of the local lockdown coming into force in Bridgend, but added such resorts were generally in rural, coastal settings with a much lower density of people than typical town centres.

"This closure will affect many businesses and jobs in Porthcawl who rely on the regular influx of tourists to the area and, of course it will mean many hard-working Welsh people who account for over 90% of our guests, will now not be able to enjoy a well-earned break," he said.

image caption"We're gutted to leave", said Keith Evans

Among those forced to leave was Keith and Iris Evans of Cimla, Neath, who were only given a few hours to pack up, having been on site since mid-July.

"We're gutted to leave. It's so relaxing here and there's a real community among the owners.

"We were told at 2:45pm that because of lockdown in Bridgend we had to be out by 6pm, but we couldn't. A lot of people didn't like it but they've had to accept it."

image captionCampsite owner Thomas Beynon said there is confusion over travelling to take a holiday

Thomas Beynon, owner of Three Cliffs campsite, Gower, said there was a "lack of clarity" over non-essential travel.

"They [the Welsh Government] have not gone as far as to ask us not to open, but that's what the public has taken it as," he said.

"I've had 20 emails today asking are we still open. We're a seasonal business and have missed key parts of the year, [so] September and October could make a big difference. The country can't afford a full lockdown again."

People travelling on motorways through lockdown areas are still allowed to stop at service stations, so Sarn services in Bridgend is unaffected by the rule preventing people from outside the county stopping during their journey within its borders.

image captionThe six counties hit with the lockdown restrictions all adjoin one another in south east Wales

What about weddings?

At present, the number of people allowed to attend a wedding is 30 - this figure has been cut in half in England.

Mr Drakeford said discussions would take place later on whether the number should be reduced.

If there was no evidence that numbers at weddings have led to spikes in the virus "then I think that will point us in the opposite direction," he said.

How are the case numbers looking?

Analysis from the BBC shows in the seven days to 19 September, which is the most recent date accurate, updated statistics are available for, Merthyr Tydfil had the 13th highest case rate per 100,000 people in the UK, at 147.5.

It was followed by Rhondda Cynon Taf at 136.8 cases per 100,000, with Blaenau Gwent on 94.5, Bridgend on 78.9, Caerphilly on 77.8 and Newport on 57.5.

The figures are all higher than those shown by Public Health Wales because it takes a while for test results to come in and be backdated properly.

What has the political reaction been?

Opposition members criticised the first minister for how he made the announcement on Tuesday - in a broadcast message, rather than in the Senedd.

Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart said: "I think it always helps if we can have a UK-wide approach to these things. That has been possible, probably eight times out of 10.

"There are numerous meetings and discussions with our colleagues in Cardiff to try and come up with solutions which don't damage the economy. At the same time, protect public health and deal with this very, very difficult virus."

Adam Price, Plaid Cymru leader, told the Senedd that the announcement was "seemingly at odds" with advice given to ministers that stated "an earlier and more comprehensive response can prevent extended lockdowns".

He called for the Welsh Government to go further and introduce the temporary, or at least earlier, closure of pubs and clubs in areas under local lockdown, and stop the sale of alcohol at off-licences much earlier in those areas at 18:00 or 19:00.

Brexit Party Member of the Senedd Mandy Jones criticised the first minister over his travel advice.

"The first minister has now said that people can still holiday in Wales, while repeating the line that they should only travel if essential. The lack of clarity is very troubling," she said.

The changes announced on Tuesday are in addition to the local lockdown restrictions.

Public Health Wales figures reported 281 further cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, the highest number of cases since April.

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