The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 (‘the Regulations’), impose restrictions on gatherings, the movement of people, and the operation of businesses, including closures, in Wales. They impose requirements on businesses that are open to take reasonable measures to ensure physical distancing between people. This has been done to help protect everyone from the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
Under regulation 3(2) Welsh Ministers are required to review the need for the requirements and restrictions in the Regulations every 21 days. The third review was due by 28 May.
We carried out this review using the latest evidence from the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and the advice of the Chief Medical Officer for Wales (CMO). While we have passed the first peak of infection and rates continue to fall, this is very gradual and it is still too early for significant lifting of requirements or restrictions where the risks of increasing rates of transmission are high. Advice from SAGE and the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Cell (TAC) is that modifications to lockdown measures can have a cumulative effect, and should therefore be incremental, and carefully monitored. This is what we intend to do.
The reproduction rate of the virus (R) continues to fall. It is likely to be below the rate of 1, above which we would see exponential growth. Our NHS has coped well and is continuing to build capacity and progressively resume normal health services. Plans are in place to build-up our Test, Trace and Protect (TTP) capability, and to ensure the continued availability of PPE. These conditions, taken together, will allow us to continue to take incremental steps over the coming weeks and months to ease restrictions when it is safe to do so.
The improving situation and latest evidence on transmission of the virus has meant we have been able to consider some adjustments to the Regulations to come into force on Monday. The areas in which changes can be made most safely are those that take place outdoors. SAGE advises that the risk of infection is substantially diminished outdoors, particularly when well-ventilated and in sunshine. However a lower risk does not mean no risk, and it essential that physical distancing of 2m is maintained and large groups do not congregate.
I am acutely aware of the difficulties faced by the separation of families and friends as a result of the lockdown and the harms caused by feelings of isolation and the impacts on the wellbeing and mental health of us all. With the limited room for manoeuvre we have, I have therefore prioritised allowing people to meet outdoors in this review, where there is a low risk of infection if 2m physical distancing is maintained.
Amendments will be brought forward to the Regulations to allow members of two separate households to meet outdoors at any one time. This will include meeting in private outdoor spaces such as gardens, but I want to be clear this comes with a higher risk of infection and we will provide guidance on precautions that can be taken to minimise these risks.
To allow more outdoor activity we are also amending the requirement to ‘stay at home’ to one to ‘stay local’. This means that as long as you are within your local geographical area and are outside, you will no longer be subject to the numerous restrictions that apply today. You will not, however, be able to meet outside with members of more than one household, and social distancing and good hygiene practices should continue to be followed. I should stress that this does not change the position about interacting with others while indoors, and people who can work from home should continue to do so.
The same restrictions as now will apply when a person wants to travel outside their local area. We will provide guidance to help people to understand how to interpret ‘local’ in this context, using five miles as a guide but recognising this is a flexible concept which can vary depending on people’s circumstances. I appreciate this does not allow people with loved ones outside their local area to meet, unless they are providing care to a vulnerable person. I will revisit this again during the next review on 18 June.
To remedy an issue within current restrictions, I will bring forward a minor amendment to the regulations to ensure weddings and civil partnerships can take place where one partner is terminally ill. We will also work with Further Education providers to ensure that learners that need to complete practical elements of their study can do so as soon as possible.
I am also signalling that non-essential retail businesses should use the next three weeks to begin to prepare to reopen. We will assess whether conditions are right for these businesses to reopen, in light of the medical and scientific advice at the next review period.
We will also reassess the options in relation to the following matters at the next review on 18 June:
- Reopening managed outdoors sites (e.g. outdoor markets, sports courts, outdoor showrooms, and outdoor museums)
- Enabling non-professional elite athletes, such as our Olympic athletes, to train safely
- Reopening more of the housing market
- Re-opening non-essential retail subject to physical distancing requirements (e.g. high streets)
- Increasing capacity for childcare and public transport to support a wider return to work.
To facilitate these changes we will be working with transport operators, local authorities and others to ensure people can travel safely and that our public spaces, such as our high streets, facilitate the physical distancing that will be required for some time to come.
Further information on the next phase for schools and further education will be published next week.
In making these changes, I want to emphasise that there is a personal responsibility on all of us to recognise the risks that the virus presents to ourselves, our families and our wider communities. We must each act with consideration and respect for others and ensure that we observe the measures which remain in place. Please think not only about what you can do but also about what you should do.
Our preference remains a four-nation response to coming out of lockdown, and we remain in consultation with all parts of the UK. Our duty is to the people of Wales, and our decisions will be based on the evidence and on specific circumstances of Wales.