Covid: 'Stay-local' rule in Wales to end from Saturday

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Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Resorts like Llandudno will be able to welcome visitors, but only from other parts of Wales

"Stay-local" rules will lift in Wales from Saturday and unrestricted travel within its borders will be allowed.

It means Wales will be the first UK nation to scrap travel restrictions within country boundaries since lockdowns were re-imposed in winter.

Self-contained tourist accommodation - including many hotels and cottages - will also be able to open on Saturday.

But non-essential travel to and from other UK nations will be banned for at least two weeks.

The move by the Welsh government will also see six people from two households able to meet up outside, an increase from the current four-person limit.

Organised outdoor activities and sports for under-18s can resume, and libraries and archives will be able to reopen their doors.

Rules will also allow a limited opening of outdoor areas of some historical places and gardens.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the "public health position remains stable" and there was "headroom" to make changes.

Responding to criticism that England has a roadmap further into the future, he said: "There's no guarantee those dates will turn out to mean anything in reality, that's why I'm reluctant to provide what I think of as a spurious certainty about what can happen that far into the future.

"We will do things where we can be definite... we will try to be as definite as we can. I want to give sectors sufficient warning, but I don't want to be suggesting that we can see the future that far ahead sufficiently precisely."

'I'm looking forward to seeing family'

Image caption, Deio, Gwenlli and Osian are looking forward to seeing their grandparents

The relaxation of rules on who and how many people you can meet outdoors means Deio, Gwenlli and Osian will be able to meet their grandparents - at a safe distance - for the first time since Christmas Day.

The children live near Llanbrynmair, Powys, while their grandparents live about 40 miles (64km) away in Llangwyryfon, Ceredigion.

"It's been very, very difficult not seeing them," said Osian, 15.

"I'm looking forward to seeing family and friends, and hopefully getting back to playing football and things like that."

Gwenlli, 10, said it had been "sad" not being able to see her grandparents, but she understood it was for a good reason.

"I would love to go shopping again and do gymnastics in my gymnastics club," she added.

Deio, 12, said it had been "hard" but was looking forward to going on a picnic with his grandparents.

'Really cold'

Image caption, Matt Childs, the RNLI's lifesaving manager for south Wales, says sea temperatures are very cold at this time of year

The ending of Wales' Covid travel restrictions coincides with the Easter school holiday and a spell of warmer weather.

Welsh beaches "were much busier last year" as more people took holiday staycations because of coronavirus travel restrictions abroad, and lifeguards are expecting this year to also be busy.

But people who may be considering heading to the beach have been warned they could get in difficulty with cold seas and many unseen strong currents.

"The sea around the Welsh coast has still not warmed up," said Matt Childs, the RNLI's lifesaving manager for south Wales.

"It is really cold and you're likely to get yourself into difficulty with cold water shock hitting you. The sea only needs to be 13 to 15 degrees to be in trouble and its much colder than that now."

How have tourism businesses reacted?

Image source, Huw Pendleton
Image caption, Huw Pendleton said he expected his caravan parks to be extremely busy at the weekend

Huw Pendleton, the managing director of Celtic Holiday Parks in Pembrokeshire, said he expected to be "extremely busy" at the weekend.

He said all three of his parks were fully booked and they were expecting up to 600 people to arrive over the weekend.

"We will be very grateful to let people back into the business," he said.

"We hope that people will act responsibly because health comes first. But these communities are very reliant on tourism."

Kevin Burt of Llandegfedd Visitor and Watersports Centre, near Pontypool, said: "We know that people have been desperate to get out, to enjoy the countryside, to enjoy the walks and to take it all in.

"We're really excited to welcome our customers back, but we are very conscious as well that it needs to be safe for them and for the people who work here as well."

Image caption, Leighton Phillips, owner of Aeron Coast Holiday Park, says he has been receiving calls from static caravan owners

Leighton Phillips, is the owner of Aeron Coast Holiday Park in Aberaeron, Ceredigion, which has 200 static caravans and space for 100 tourers.

About 90% of the statics are owned by people from south Wales, many of whom have been calling Mr Phillips, asking when they can come back.

The park's shared facilities - the club, children's playroom, gym and pool - have to stay closed, but Mr Phillips is expecting a busy weekend.

"I suppose from one minute past 12 they could come, but they will be coming I'm sure from eight o'clock on in the morning," he said.

"I think mainly they want to be able to just get out, have a stroll around and see people at a distance.

"They're so used - as we all have been - to being locked in at home and looking at the garden wall or what's outside. Now they really want to see their friends and they're a very very close community here."

Tegryn Jones, chief executive of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, told BBC Radio Wales "there is concern" about an influx of visitors, and urged people to "act responsibly".

Image source, Mandy Jones Photography
Image caption, Jim Jones says there is a "palpable sense of frustration" among hospitality and attraction businesses

Meanwhile, the chief executive of North Wales Tourism welcomed the further easing, but said it was "a great shame" that many attractions and hospitality businesses will not be allowed to reopen at the same time.

"There is still a real and palpable sense of frustration in the sector, as it feels that the Welsh government haven't been listening to the mood on the ground," said Jim Jones.

"If they had, then we would have a plan to take us forward post April. 

"It is very difficult to understand why they won't map this out, especially as the other three home nations have now done so."

Can I travel to Wales?

Speaking on BBC Radio Wales' Breakfast programme, Mr Drakeford said people in England were expected to be able to travel from 12 April, and if those restrictions are lifted they will be able to come to Wales.

In the meantime, people taking bookings are expected to ensure they are only taking them from people living in Wales.

Mr Drakeford said: "Avoid crowded places. We are such a lucky country, we've got so many fantastic places people can explore and visit. Look for those other opportunities, respect other people, keep a distance.

"If there are people knowingly and deliberately breaking the law then action will be taken."

He added vaccine passports for entering pubs was something which "we should be exploring".

Can people in Wales travel elsewhere in the UK?

Not at the moment. Travel in and out of Wales is not permitted unless you have a reasonable excuse which includes:

  • To meet other people in your support bubble
  • To escape a risk of illness or injury, such as victims or people at risk of domestic abuse
  • To provide or receive emergency services
  • To attend a wedding, civil partnership or funeral, if you are invited
  • To vote in an election
  • For elite athletes to train, compete or provide coaching or similar support to an elite athlete

There is also a list of reasons deemed "reasonably necessary", which include accessing education or childcare when "there is no practicable alternative".

When the next review of the regulations takes place on Thursday, Welsh ministers will consider allowing people to travel outside of Wales from 12 April.

England's travel restrictions are also expected to end on 12 April so, subject to law changes in by both governments, travel into England could be possible.

The same goes for Scotland and Northern Ireland - in Scotland, travel to other parts of the UK should be permitted from 26 April or soon after and in Northern Ireland the stay-at-home message is expected to be relaxed from 12 April.

When will lockdown ease further?

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Stay local travel rules, which had been in force for two weeks, will end on Saturday

Retailers may be allowed to fully reopen, and teaching of pupils not yet back in school could restart, from 12 April.

Primary schools and some secondary school children have already resumed classes.

A decision on whether to permit pubs, restaurants and cafes to reopen outdoors will not be taken until at least 22 April.

The UK government does not plan to ease stay at home restrictions in England until 29 March, but ministers will urge people to remain local as much as possible.

It plans to allow trips to self-catering accommodation from 12 April.

The Welsh government said the level of restrictions was "starting" to move from alert level four to alert level three.

How has the hospitality sector reacted to remaining closed?

Image caption, Maria McLean from Dylan's restaurant wants a road map out of lockdown for the industry

Members of the Welsh Hospitality industry are backing an appeal for money to fund a legal challenge to the rules on the reopening of pubs and restaurants in Wales.

The chairman of Cardiff Licensees forum said he was "100%" behind a bid to raise money for a judicial review of the Welsh government's timeline.

It follows a similar challenge of the UK government's rules in England.

Image caption, Cerys Furlong runs The Grange pub, the Milkwood restaurant and The Lansdowne pub

Nick Newman, chairman of Cardiff Licensees Forum, said he has had "a terrific response" to a crowdfunding proposal by Matt Connolly, the owner of a restaurant in Cardiff.

Dylan's, which has restaurants in Menai Bridge, Criccieth and Llandudno, has called for a road map of of lockdown for the industry.

Maria McLean from the company said: "Hospitality is at the heart of a lot of what we do in north Wales and we run the risk of undoing all that good work we've done to promote this fabulous destination over the last 10 or so years.

"If we're not open and the destination across the border are, it makes it very difficult for us to compete on an even footing."

Cerys Furlong, who owns two pubs and a restaurant in Cardiff, called for more financial support for the sector.

"It really is urgent, funding is running out in five days for many businesses and people are really, really feeling the strain," she told Gareth Lewis on BBC Radio Wales.

"To fail at this last hurdle, to provide this support that is necessary, would just be catastrophic."

What's the political reaction?

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said: "It's a difficult balance to strike... but I think one of the areas I don't think the Welsh government are getting it right is giving sufficient forewarning to businesses.

"Having a series of dates as far out as June is excessive... but businesses tell us the one thing they need is notice."

Calum Davies, from the Welsh Conservatives, said: "This change is very welcome, better late than never, really, but this is the first step of what businesses need to hear especially in the tourism industry.

"We still need more clarity and detail in other areas.

Jane Dodds, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said: "This will come as welcome news to many who have been cut off for a long time.

"The public have a duty to follow these new rules carefully as the virus is still very much circulating amongst us. I hope this will the start of the end of our final lockdown."

Stay local rules were in place for just two weeks, replacing a stay-at-home order - in place since the start of the third national Welsh lockdown.

Lockdown was imposed in Wales at the end of December after a rise in cases increased pressure on the Welsh NHS.

Wales' case rate has been below 50 cases per 100,000 people - the threshold used as the guide for bringing areas into lockdown last year - for the past 21 days.

At the moment it is 38.5 per 100,000 over the past seven days compared to the peak on 17 December, when it was 636 per 100,000.

The rate that tests are coming back as positive is the lowest point since mid-September, at 3.1%

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