Covid Wales: 'Urgent clarity' needed on rules after firebreak

By George Herd
BBC News

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It is views such as this on a route to the top of Snowdon that attracts hundreds of thousands of people to visit north Wales

The tourism industry in Wales needs urgent clarity on rules after the national Covid firebreak lockdown ends, say some of its leaders.

Emotions in the sector are turning from "anxiety to anger" in some parts of the country, warned one industry insider.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething has said there would be guidance at least a week in advance on what comes next.

The Welsh Government said it met a tourism taskforce "on a weekly basis" to work with the industry.

But Jim Jones, the managing director of North Wales Tourism, said the 1,000 members he represents needed to know "a month ago".

He said most of north Wales had already been put under hyper-local lockdown, and extending the measures to the national firebreak was "draconian".

"The first minister talks about the short, sharp shock - we're talking about the long, sharp shock to our economy," Mr Jones said.

"The current lockdown is really unfair for business.

"I've always said right from day one 'yes, absolutely we should be protecting lives' - but at the same time we should be protecting people's livelihoods."

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Autumn in the Conwy Valley may be cooler - but its colours are usually a visitor magnet

He said the economic impact was being felt across the whole of the hospitality sector in the region, including the supply chain behind the tourism industry.

"We're already hearing of redundancies, or job losses, and questions of whether businesses will open," Mr Jones continued.

"It's the uncertainty going forward - and the anxiety which is now turning to anger.

"It's the lack of information, the lack of engagement that we are having at this moment in time with Welsh Government and business.

"We are the last to find out, yet we're the ones dealing with the brunt of it all."

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Demonstrators gathered on Llandudno's prom on Sunday over Covid restrictions

Concerns about the lockdown measures led to a protest over the weekend in Llandudno, one of the main holiday destinations on the north Wales coast.

North Wales Tourism said the sector was worth more than £3bn alone to the region every year.

Across Wales, the industry was worth an estimated £6.3bn in spending by visitors in 2018, according to Welsh Government figures.

It also employed more than 132,000 people - nearly one-in-10 of the Welsh workforce.

Anglesey glamour-camping entrepreneur Victoria Roberts said she had already bitten the bullet and called it a year for her glamping sites.

"I know it's October, but we keep getting calls about bookings - there's still a market out there," she said.

But with the firebreak in place, she said she and others in similar businesses across the island were resigned to staying shut until next year.

She also runs another holiday accommodation business but said she did not know where she stands after the firebreak ends on 9 November.

"Can I take bookings? Will the travel restrictions still be in place? What about the rule-of-six - will that still be in place?" she asked.

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Anglesey was one of the few places in north Wales to avoid local lockdown - but it is now part of the Wales firebreak lockdown

As co-chairman of the island's own tourism association, she said other businesses were in the same situation.

"People just need to know - clear direction and back it up with reasons why," she added.

"We need to know by the end of the week. We need to know what the plan is and how it will pan out - and what the next step will be.

"Will we be potentially looking at other firebreakers in the new year?"

Mr Gething told Monday's coronavirus briefing that discussions would continue with stakeholders across industries such as tourism and retail over the course of the week.

"There are conversations taking place today, tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday and beyond, and we'll then expect the Cabinet to come together and agree a set of rules," he said.

"We want to be in a position to give people at least a week or so to understand the new rules that are going to be in place."

A Welsh Government official added that "engagement with the industry has been vital during the course of the pandemic" and, in addition to weekly meetings, a news bulletin in Wales was sent to 61,000 tourism businesses.

"Tourism is extremely important to our economy and we know this is an incredibly challenging time for businesses," they added.

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