Coronavirus: Face masks in shops to be mandatory in Wales

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Media captionFirst Minister Mark Drakeford says he is confident there will be “good levels of compliance”

People in Wales must wear face masks in shops and other indoor public spaces from Monday as coronavirus cases rise.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the change was because 20 people in every 100,000 in Wales now had Covid-19, as the UK infection R number rose to 1.2.

Indoor meetings of more than six from an extended household will be illegal from Monday, with fines in place.

It comes as two areas bring in new advice to avoid following Caerphilly into a local lockdown.

The Welsh Government said the face mask rule would not apply to children aged under 11.

Mr Drakeford warned flouting face covering restrictions could face a fine of £1,920.

He said curfews and the restriction of alcohol sales were among measures that could now be taken.

The new restriction will apply in pubs and restaurants, as well as private homes, meaning groups of six must be part of the same extended household.

He said most people had complied with social distancing rules but “a small minority have not done so”.

New powers would allow local authorities to close premises or stop events happening on public health grounds.

“These powers will enable local authorities to move quickly to respond to outbreaks of the virus in their areas, for example where a number of cases are linked to a particular premise or as a preventative measure, where there is a high risk of outbreak,” Mr Drakeford said.

‘The boys are going to be upset’

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Charlotte Harding lives in Ferndale in the Rhondda with husband Richard and sons Ethan, 8, and Harrison, 6

Charlotte Harding, a mother of two, has had to cancel her son’s birthday meal because of Wales’ new rules.

“We are due to go the Sunday after next to have a family meal for my son’s birthday. That won’t go ahead now,” she said.

“With three families coming together, that’s not going to be a possibility. The boys are going to be upset as we won’t be able to see our niece, we won’t be able to see their nans.

“I have a lot of friends whose households are made up of six people so it is going to be a struggle for lots of families.

“All those little anxieties I had before the lockdown are back. I am a bit worried about not being able to see my family, the children not being able to see their grandparents. That’s going to be hard again”.

‘Draconian measures’ warning

The first minister said there was “a short window to get ahead of the gathering storm” of coronavirus.

Mr Drakeford said that following the rules would help avoid “more draconian measures”.

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Public Health Wales data shows there have been no deaths with coronavirus in Wales in September

Mr Drakeford said the “hotspot areas” of Caerphilly county, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taff were being monitored closely to see if further action was needed to prevent the ongoing spread of coronavirus.

The first minister said it was important people carried on working from home if they could.

Masks not “some sort of magic wand”

Mr Drakeford told the BBC the rate of 20 people in 100,000 was the “threshold we use for people to have to quarantine coming back into the UK”.

He said if that figure fell, the advice on face masks could be looked at again.

The new mask rule would come in from Monday to give people time to buy one, he said.

Masks were not “some sort of magic wand” but “a sensible addition to the precautionary measures we are taking” to avert a crisis.

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Media captionStop your glasses steaming up with a mask on

Mr Drakeford said masks would not be mandatory in workplaces and said wearing them in school did “not seem proportionate.”

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said the announcement “was very welcome” though the evidence on them was “never going to be 100%.”

Conservative Member of the Senedd, Darren Millar, said on Twitter his party had been calling for mandatory masks in shops since early July: “On Wednesday we tabled a debate in the Welsh Parliament. Today, the Welsh Labour-led Government finally act.”

The Federation of Small Businesses said it hoped the new mask rules would “provide reassurance” to shoppers.

But it joined the shop workers union USDAW in urging customers to continue treating staff with respect.

‘No immediate return to normal shopping’

“The move to make wearing face coverings mandatory is further proof there will be no immediate return to normal shopping,” said Sara Jones, head of the Welsh Retail Consortium.

Those working in towns and city centres have broadly welcomed the move to avoid another full lockdown.

“Businesses just need to know what they have to do to be able to open up and trade,” said Kevin Ward, manager of the Newport Now business improvement district.

“Certain regulations have changed through the pandemic but what nobody wants is to have to go into a full lockdown again. For a lot of independent businesses and [chain stores], they would not survive another lockdown,” he said.

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Kevin Ward said retailers needed to know what to do in order to trade

Neil Butler, of teachers’ union NASUWT, said he was worried about schools: “The Welsh Government is positively saying no, we do not want face coverings in those particular environments.”

Cases ‘linked to people socialising indoors’

Ministers said the restrictions on people meeting followed an increase in cases linked to people socialising indoors.

Up to four households have been able to form an extended household and meet since late August. Until now, there has been no legal limit on how many people could gather.

Mr Drakeford said the rule of up to 30 people being allowed to meet outdoors would include peoples’ gardens.

Children aged under 11 are not included in the six.

The new rules on meeting indoors will not apply in Caerphilly county borough, which was put under local lockdown on Tuesday, where all extended household meetings are currently banned inside.

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Shoppers wearing face masks in Caerphilly, the first place in Wales to have a local lockdown

The move comes after other parts of the UK also restricted meetings to six – but did so both indoors and outdoors.

The UK government is restricting gatherings in England to just six people from Monday, with some exceptions. The number of people that can meet in Scotland has also been cut to six.

Wales’ coronavirus rules mean people can only be part of a single extended household, which cannot be changed once arranged.

Despite the gradual easing of restrictions over the summer, meetings indoors with anyone outside your extended household have remained illegal.

One of UK’s highest infection rates

The recent rise in cases seen in Caerphilly county was blamed on people socialising in other people’s homes in large numbers.

The area has seen one of the highest rates of cases in the whole of the UK, with 91.1 cases per 100,000 people over seven days.

On Thursday, residents of Rhondda Cynon Taff and Merthyr Tydfil were asked to follow a range of measures to avoid a local lockdown.

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