Punters in Wales were back in pubs and bars last night, amid cautious optimism that a 17-day firebreak lockdown had worked well.
First Minister Mark Drakeford hailed ‘early positive signs’ that the high numbers of new cases were beginning to drop as Wales began life under new national measures from Monday.
Reopened businesses welcomed the end of the short, sharp restrictions but admitted they are unsure of the future. Supermarkets can again sell non-essential items but people will only be allowed to meet up inside homes with members of one other household if they have joined their bubble.
But groups of up to four people are now allowed to meet up in cafes, pubs and restaurants while shops, gyms, hairdressers and places of worship can also reopen. And last night revellers were pictured enjoying a night out in Cardiff – while England continues a national lockdown that is set to last until at least December 2.
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Mr Drakeford told Monday’s Welsh Government press briefing the all-Wales level had now dropped from 250 cases per 100,000 people to just under 220 cases – and stressed it was ‘vital’ people continued to work from home.
He said: ‘We won’t know the full impact for a couple of weeks yet but there are some tentative early positive signs, and those give us some hope.
‘Mobility data shows large increases in people staying at home during the firebreak – back to the levels last seen in May.
‘It is vital that working from home as much as possible continues beyond today.’
Mr Drakeford said rates in Merthyr Tydfil – which briefly became the worst-hit area of the UK last week with 741 cases per 100,000 people – had now fallen to around 520.
He continued: ‘This is still too high, but an important and encouraging fall.’
But the number of people being admitted to hospital was continuing to rise, the Welsh Labour leader said, adding there were now more than 1,400 Covid-related cases in Welsh hospitals, higher than during the April peak of the virus.
And he said high numbers of deaths would continue ‘until we get coronavirus under control’.
Many of the deaths and hospitalisations being seen now are likely to have be a result of contracting Covid-19 before the firebreak came in – making it difficult to know how well the restrictions worked until more time has passed.
Wales’ new national measures will be reviewed in a fortnight and the First Minister said the Welsh Government has not ‘ruled out’ taking targeted local action if areas of the country are badly hit.
Addressing scenes of queues of people lining up outside reopened stores in Cardiff city centre, Mr Drakeford said he had been told Monday’s return of retail was being ‘well managed’.
The longest queue of people could be found outside the city’s Primark store as security staff allowed a steady stream of hundreds of shoppers inside the discount fashion store.
Owners of Welsh businesses, which include bars, restaurants and cafes, said they were happy to be back after a difficult period under lockdown, and hoped returning shoppers would provide a timely boost for their trade.
Tom Morgan, 26, who co-owns the Pitch Bar and Eatery in Cardiff’s Mill Lane area, said: ‘We’re excited to be able to be back open for our customers.
‘It’s been difficult, particularly as we were waiting quite a while for the finalised advice from the Welsh Government which only came out on Friday.’
Mr Morgan said he was ‘nervous’ about the potential for another lockdown in future, but said he was optimistic trade would be allowed to pick back up before Christmas.
‘It won’t be the same, Christmas party bookings are a no-go. But we expect the walk-up trade to be a lot better,’ he added.
In September, the Scientific Adivsory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advised the UK government to implement a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown similar to the one implemented in Wales – a call echoed by Labour.
But Boris Johnson’s government refused, only to implement a full national lockdown in England for at least a month six weeks later.
On Monday, Public Health Wales reported a further 931 cases of coronavirus in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 60,912. Another eight deaths were also reported, taking the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 2,041.
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