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Fortnight Covid 'fire-break' lockdown within days in Wales

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image captionWales appears to be heading for another lockdown

People in Wales are facing a national lockdown lasting at least two weeks in plans described as a "fire-break" by the first minister.

Mark Drakeford said it would be a "short, sharp" circuit-breaker to slow down the virus.

He said a decision was likely to be made on Monday, while talks continue with health officials, scientific advisors and councils over the weekend.

"Doing nothing is not an option," he said.

"A 'fire-break' would also mean a short, sharp shock to all our lives.

"We would all have to stay at home to once again save lives. But this time it would be for weeks not months."

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Mr Drakeford warned that 2,500 people were now being infected with coronavirus every day in Wales, with critical care units in hospitals full.

"A successful fire-break would re-set the virus at a lower level," he added.

"Together with a new national set of rules for the whole of Wales after the fire-break period we would have slowed the virus down enough to get us through to Christmas."

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said Mr Drakeford was quoting the estimated number of cases, including untested and asymptomatic, not the daily confirmed cases reported by Public Health Wales.

"There will be many people who don't get a test who have symptoms and large numbers who are asymptomatic," she said.

"The numbers the first minister reported today come from TAC (Technical Advisory Cell which advices the Welsh Government) and are the scientific community's best understanding of the number of cases based on a wide range of indicators."

The TAC's latest summary says the daily growth rate is estimated by Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) to be between 0.02 and 0.07 in Wales, indicating that infections could be increasing by between 2% and 7% per day.

What could happen after the 'fire-break'?

Currently about 2.3 million people in Wales are living in communities under local lockdown rules, with other communities living under different rules.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething said that following any "fire-break" period, consistent national rules would be put in place to keep the level of the virus low.

media captionThe BBC's Laura Foster explains what a circuit breaker is and how it could help tackle Covid-19

"If we do this, we would much rather not have to do this again before the end of the year," he said, adding ministers needed to find rules people could live with.

"A set of consistent national rules will be really important, so people can look forward to the end of the year and recognise who they can spend their festive period with."

'The current restrictions are not strong enough'

Plaid Cymru has been calling on Mr Drakeford to introduce the circuit-breaker without delay, while Labour at Westminster says a similar approach should be adopted in England.

The British Medical Association in Wales, which represents doctors, said it would welcome a circuit-breaker lockdown.

"Cases are climbing fast across Wales with the latest figures showing that the number of Covid-related patients in the Welsh NHS has risen by 49% in a week," said Dr David Bailey, from BMA Wales.

"It's clear that the current restrictions are not strong enough to suppress the spread of the virus.

"Doctors in Wales support, and are calling for as a matter of urgency, a circuit-breaker lockdown for a number of weeks.

"It is imperative that robust action is taken now without delay, to protect the citizens of Wales, and the Welsh NHS."

Will businesses get support?

image copyrightGov.Wales
image captionDiscussions on a fire-break lockdown will continue over the weekend

Giving a briefing on Friday, the first minister said any fire-break lockdown in Wales would not be "a magic wand".

He said restrictions would not "make coronavirus disappear" but they would "buy time".

"I can't offer a guarantee… that it would not be necessary to take further measures later in the winter," he added.

"But I'm focused on the immediate situation, the immediate difficulties faced by our national health service by the continuing spread of the virus in all parts of Wales, and we have to act to deal with that now in this planned and pre-emptive way."

Mr Drakeford said ministers were drawing up plans for a new business support package before taking a final decision on any circuit-breaker.

Heat map of Wales' Covid community infection levels

Here's how levels of Covid community infection has changed since the start of September

Posted by BBC Wales News on Friday, October 16, 2020
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The General Secretary of TUC Wales Shavanah Taj said: "The question is, what does that look like and how does that actually impact jobs?"

Ms Taj said if a short lockdown was brought in, jobs and businesses needed protection.

"The hospitality industry in particular supports tens of thousands of jobs throughout Wales and we do need to be doing everything possible to make sure that these workers in particular are not left unsupported," she said on BBC Radio Wales.

"We've got to be doing everything possible to avoid mass job losses and business closures at all costs."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionWill areas such as the Brecon Beacons be off limits again?

Rosemarie Harris, the leader of Powys council said she also expected the circuit-breaker action to be taken.

"Maybe two or three weeks of lockdown, a similar lockdown to before where we are all required to stay at home," she told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast.

"I'm not comfortable with it, but I would say that there is probably a majority support for it, as long as it is fairly short and sharp and that we have an exit strategy."

However, she said she would be seeking financial support for businesses that will be hit by any lockdown.

"It will - again - be difficult for Powys. We are travellers, because we have to be - we have no district general hospital within the county, we have no higher education, many people go out [of the county] for work, for shopping," she said.

Will schools be affected?

As part of a short lockdown in Northern Ireland, schools are closing for two weeks at half term.

On Thursday morning, Wales' Education Minister Kirsty Williams said the government was discussing "whether a circuit-breaker is an appropriate step".

That included considering "what role education has to play in all of that and then we need to be able to give families advance notice if there is to be a change of circumstance".

Laura Doel, director of school leaders' union NAHT, said any decision "needs to be communicated clearly to schools and parents".

"It needs to be made to give everyone enough time to prepare for the impact any school closures may have".

How do business owners feel?

image captionSalon owner Charlotte Griffiths said she is concerned more restrictions may hit the hair and beauty industry

Charlotte Griffiths, who owns a beauty salon in Cardiff, said she is concerned over the prospect of more restrictions.

She said: "It will affect us a lot, more so because we've only just managed to get back up on our feet from the last lockdown.

"We've only been open since November of last year, so we've spent the last year building our client base and we're now in a position where we've just broken even from the last lockdown, and it's about to hit again.

"They talk about hospitality and other industries, but they don't talk about the hair and beauty industry. We're a safe industry, but we're not recognised."

What is the Covid situation in Wales?

A total of 17 areas in Wales are under local lockdown because of rising infection rates - meaning people cannot travel outside of their area and indoor meetings are restricted.

The first minister confirmed on Friday that all the local restrictions would remain in force across Wales "for at least another seven days".

"The general trend in Wales is a worsening situation and most areas where local restrictions are in place have reported a seven-day trend where Covid-19 cases have increased," he said.

He said the local lockdowns did appear to have slowed the spread of Covid and were "making a positive difference".

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