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Covid in Wales: Greater restrictions for pubs ahead of Christmas

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media captionThe Covid uncertainty is "awful", pub owner Sian Shepphard says

Pubs, restaurants and bars will be subject to stricter Covid-19 restrictions in the run up to Christmas, the first minister has said.

The new restrictions, which have not yet been finalised, will come into force from Friday, 4 December.

They may be based on the system in some parts of Scotland where no alcohol can be served.

Cinemas, bowling alleys and indoor entertainment venues will also have to shut before the festive break.

A date for these to close has not yet been agreed.

Mark Drakeford said action was needed as case rates continued to rise in the run up to Christmas.

But the Welsh Conservatives said any new restrictions would be a "real blow" for businesses who had already "suffered greatly", while Plaid Cymru said the lack of detail was leaving employers unable to prepare.

Pubs, bars and restaurants had only reopened on 9 November after the Wales-wide 17-day lockdown, and are currently made to close at 22:00 GMT.

Ahead of the announcement people working in the hospitality industry had warned any further restrictions before Christmas would be a "big blow".

Plans for the new rules have not yet been finalised, but BBC Wales understands one option being considered is the "level three" Scottish system, where venues are banned from selling alcohol and have to close at 18:00.

The R rate - the number of people each infected person passed the virus on to - has risen again to 1.4 in Wales, with the rate needing to be below one for the number of cases to fall.

media caption"We need to reduce Covid spread before Christmas"

In England about 55 million people are being placed under the tightest level of lockdown rules from 2 December, when an England-wide lockdown ends and a new tiered system is introduced.

Speaking at the Welsh Government's coronavirus briefing, Mr Drakeford said Wales had to use the "coming weeks" to reduce the spread of the virus, to "create more headroom for the Christmas period".

Mr Drakeford said while case rates had fallen following the 17-day firebreak, as people had resumed socialising it they had risen "faster and further than we anticipated", and action was needed.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionA further major package of financial support for businesses affected will be announced on Monday

"This does not mean a return to the firebreak arrangements, but the cabinet has agreed to take further specific and targeted action to reinforce the current national measures we have place," he said.

Mr Drakeford said he could "not rule anything out for the future" in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

Non-essential retail, hairdressers, gyms and leisure centres will stay open, it was confirmed.

Speaking of the new measures for pubs, bars and restaurants, Mr Drakeford added: "I know this will be a worrying time for all working in the industry.

"We will be working over the weekend with partners to finalise the details of the new arrangements and to put in place a further major package of financial support to respond to those changes.

"I will give further details about the package on Monday."

What's the reaction from businesses?

Claire Vaughan, programme manager at Chapter cinema in Cardiff, said: "Globally no cases of coronavirus have been traced back to a visit to the cinema.

"Cinemas are a low-risk way of spending time outside the house at a time when the mental health of people in Wales is a huge concern.

image copyrightBen Morgan
image captionPeople will watch Mared Williams outside the venue

"Masks are worn, there are air circulation units and no one is facing another person... Not everyone is living in a warm, safe home - many people need these spaces to be open."

Liam Evans-Ford, Theatr Clwyd's executive director, added the announcement had been a "huge surprise".

"This is devastating for our business, for our employees, for our freelancers and for our communities," he said.

Sian Shepphard, owner of the Horse and Jockey in Pontypool, opened the pub in August so has not been eligible for government support.

image captionSian Shepphard is worried about her staff

"The main problem is we are trying to get people to stay at home but it is ruining our businesses," she said.

"I employ over 25 staff here - we are a really family-run business. We are all family - how am I supposed to put food on the table for them?"

Phil James, a customer at the pub, said the potential changes would affect his Christmas plans.

"We just don't know what arrangement to make at the end of the day - people have to know. You come out to socialise - people want to be social for Christmas, alcohol is a part of it."

image captionPhil James says pubs play a big part in his festive celebrations

Simon Buckley, chairman of The Brewers of Wales, said: "Is this finally the straw that will break the industry's back?

"We as an industry are being thrown to the wind, and the looming prospect of significant job losses seems to count for nothing."

What's the political reaction?

Plaid's economy spokeswoman Helen Mary Jones said: "They [pubs and restaurants] don't know if they're being asked to close altogether again, to only do takeaways, to have restricted opening without alcohol.

"So, they can't really prepare. They need to be given the maximum length of time to prepare."

Clwyd West member of the Senedd Darren Millar called for a targeted rather than a Wales-wide blanket approach.

"It is grossly unfair to impose the same level of restrictions in Conwy and Denbighshire as Covid-19 hotspots in south Wales," he said.

"The virus is circulating at different rates in different parts of the country."

Mr Drakeford insisted there were no plans to introduce regionalised "tiered" restrictions, similar to those coming into force in England.

He said there was no case for aligning the Welsh and English systems to ensure no-one was left out of UK-wide Treasury schemes that offer financial assistance to businesses affected by lockdown measures.

"We don't lose out on any UK system by having a single tier for Wales, so there is no disadvantage to us in that," he said.

He added: "The advice we have is that a single set of arrangements for Wales works best, is easiest to communicate and delivers benefits in all parts of Wales."

Pembrokeshire councillor John Davies welcomed the restrictions after a spike in cases in his ward, Cilgerran, linked to the recent outbreak in nearby Cardigan.

He told Newyddion 9: "If people aren't willing to exercise common sense and be citizens of responsibility towards each other, there is no other option.

"We've seen what happens in this part of the world when people act in a selfish manner."

'No plans to close schools early'

image copyrightPA Media
image captionChildren are currently in "class bubbles" during school

Mr Drakeford said he had no plans to allow schools to close early for Christmas.

Teaching union UCAC had called for classrooms to be shut on 11 December and for lessons to be moved online amid fears teachers and pupils may have to isolate on Christmas Day.

But Mr Drakeford said ministers would do "everything we can" to keep schools working up until the Christmas holiday.

He added: "It is more important for our children not to miss out further on the education that is planned for them for the whole of the rest of this term and that's what we will be working to achieve."

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