Wales politics

Coronavirus in Wales: Plans to relax indoor meeting rules postponed

Family at a front door Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Since early last month two households have been able meet indoors

Lockdown rules on meeting people indoors in Wales will not be relaxed this weekend, as previously suggested.

However, up to four households - up from two - will be able to form an extended household from 22 August, as long as conditions "remain stable".

First Minister Mark Drakeford said it was important not to jeopardise progress.

He also said all hospitality businesses would have to collect customers' contact details to help tracing.

Further enforcement measures are also being introduced to make sure businesses follow Covid-19 safety rules.

A fortnight ago Mark Drakeford said he "would like to be able to offer more opportunities for people to meet indoors" from 15 August.

However he added this was "the most risky thing you can do" and now says he has now decided not to make any changes this weekend.

Mr Drakeford was asked on BBC Radio Wales Breakfast why people can visit pubs, soft play areas and gyms indoors but not see more of friends and family in their own home.

"When people go to a pub or to a soft play area they are in a public place where there are clear rules laid down as to how people should behave in those settings, and there are people there to make sure that those rules are observed, and people are only in those settings for a relatively limited period of time," he said.

"Unfortunately what we have learnt is that when people meet inside their own homes, even people who are scrupulous about how they wanted to observe the rules, people tend to lapse into the way we all behave inside our own houses.

"Seventy per cent of all new infections in England are traced to household infections, people behaving inside their houses in ways that puts themselves and others at risk."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mark Drakeford: "We have made so much progress and we mustn't jeopardise this"

People in Wales can only meet up indoors if they are part of an extended household.

Currently an extended household can only be made up of two households, but from next weekend the cap will increase to four.

It will not be possible at that point to break up an existing extended household to form a new one, under the rules.

Mr Drakeford said people now had a week to discuss what they should do.

Issues to consider included "how vulnerable people may be, who might need help the most, grandparents helping with children and childcare around the school day", he said.

"That's why we decided we wouldn't introduce these changes until Saturday the 22nd of August, because it gives families the opportunity to have those conversations, and then to make the right choices, because once you've decided which households are to form your extended household, then that's how it has to be, you can't pick and choose and chop and change."

Also from next weekend a meal following a wedding, civil partnership or funeral will be allowed for up to 30 people indoors if social distancing can be maintained.

Welsh Conservative Covid-19 recovery spokesman Darren Millar welcomed the new extended household regulations, but said people would be disappointed the rules on meeting indoors were not being relaxed.

"Many will find it extraordinary that they can meet up with other people indoors in a local cafe or restaurant with dozens of other people present, yet they can't call around for a panad [cup of tea] at someone's own home, mixing with far fewer people," he said.

Contact tracing

The first minister has also announced that new powers will be introduced on Monday requiring all hospitality businesses to collect customers' contact details.

This will mean people "can be contacted quickly by our test, trace, protect teams if they may have been exposed to coronavirus," Mr Drakeford said.

Local authorities are already able to issue improvement or closure notices to businesses who are not complying with Covid-19 safety rules.

Now the Welsh Government says any business issued with such a notice will have to display a sign.

"This pandemic is far from over and we all still have a duty to do our part to keep Wales safe," the first minister said.

The Federation of Small Businesses Wales said it was "very important" those operating in the hospitality sector took on board the announcement it would be compulsory to implement contact tracing.

"This initiative will help trace any potential outbreaks, which will ultimately keep us all safe and keep businesses open," said its policy chairman Ben Francis.

"We want to ensure that small hospitality firms have the best possible chance at a safe, successful reopening and contact tracing is a vital part of that."

Analysis by BBC Wales political reporter Cemlyn Davies

Since lockdown rules started to be lifted this is the first time Mark Drakeford has decided not to relax a restriction according to the timetable he had provisionally set out.

He always warns that any changes are conditional on the spread of the virus at the time, but his tone was particularly cautious when he talked a couple of weeks ago about potentially allowing more people to meet inside from the 15th of August.

Mr Drakeford claimed that was the "most risky thing you can do" and he would study the evidence carefully.

He has now decided to wait a little longer before allowing a limited relaxation of the restrictions - a decision, it is said, guided by what has happened in other parts of the UK where local outbreaks have occurred.

He says those spikes have been caused by people transmitting the virus indoors, and poor compliance by some businesses. That is why ministers here are also toughening their approach towards companies found to be flouting the rules.

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