Wales ‘could be plunged into a circuit-breaker lockdown in the next few days’

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the Welsh Government is considering a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown

Wales today vowed to push ahead with an ‘unenforceable’ ban on travellers from English coronavirus hotspots.

First Minister Mark Drakeford announced that the rules will come into force from 6pm tonight after accusing Boris Johnson of ignoring his pleas to impose an equivalent restrictions.

It is set to apply to all residents from areas in Tier Two and Three lockdowns – now more than 30million people – as well as the central belt of Scotland, and the whole of Northern Ireland. 

However, the idea of border restrictions has already been derided as impractical and anti-English by critics. 

The move comes as Mr Drakeford said he was ‘looking very carefully’ at whether to bring in a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

If he goes ahead with the proposals to shut bars and restaurants temporarily, it would leave England as the only UK nation not to have such blanket measures in place. 

Mr Drakeford said: ‘The number of cases across Wales is growing and our health service is coming under pressure.

‘To keep Wales safe, the Welsh Government is therefore amending the Regulations to make it clear that people living in areas with a high-prevalence of coronavirus in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland would not be able to travel to parts of Wales where there is a low prevalence.

‘It is vital that we keep communities which have low levels of infection as safe as possible and this sensible and necessary restriction will help prevent the virus moving from more urban, highly populated areas to more sparsely populated areas.’ 

The Welsh Government will ban people from Covid hotspots in England entering the country

Deaths in Wales have begun rising since the summer months saw infections plateau

What laws can be used to stop the English travelling to Wales? 

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford yesterday announced an extraordinary bid to ban people from coronavirus hotspots in England entering the country.

In Wales, health protection legislation – a devolved power – falls under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.

It was updated in 2010 to give public authorities ‘more comprehensive powers and duties to prevent and control risks to human health from infection or contamination’. 

In its basic form, the act allows Welsh ministers to make laws ‘for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection or contamination in Wales’. 

The laws that can be put forward include ‘restrictions or requirements on or in relation to persons, things or premises in the event of, or in response to, a threat to public health’.

While the act does not specifically mention limitations on movements, the travel ban will likely be made law using the powers it grants.

However, the unprecedented nature of Mr Drakeford’s proposals – and the prospect of ANPR being used to catch rule-breakers – could result in a legal challenge. 

It is not thought any strict lockdown decision will be made before the weekend.

The key problem facing the Welsh government is how they would be able to support people who would no longer be able to go to work.

Mr Drakeford said at a press conference today: ‘Here in the Welsh Government, we are looking very carefully at introducing a time-limited firebreak, also known as a circuit-breaker, of the type recommended by Sage, the UK’s expert scientific advisory group, and by our own advisers here in Wales.

‘This would be a short, sharp shock to the virus which could turn back the clock, slowing down its spread and buying us more time and vital capacity in the health service.

‘A firebreak would also, however, be a short, sharp shock to all our lives. We will all have to stay at home once again, to save those lives.

‘But this time, it will be for weeks and not months. We are considering a two or three-week firebreak. The shorter the period, the sharper the measures will have to be.’

Yesterday the Welsh First Minister said number plate recognition cameras will be used to fine English drivers entering the country from hotspot areas despite police saying the travel ban is ‘unenforceable.’ 

But the Police Federation of England and Wales said ‘policing in Wales is already over-stretched due to the pandemic’ and the new measures would add ‘yet another level of complexity to policing’. 

Mr Drakeford defended his proposals on Thursday morning, arguing that the police could use ANPR technology to catch visitors crossing the frontier. 

The Labour Party leader also said holiday providers in Wales should not accept bookings from people in hotspot areas of the UK as he warned existing getaway plans ‘will no longer be able to be honoured’. 

Under regulations being introduced, people living in areas with high levels of coronavirus in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be able to travel to Wales.

The proposals have sparked a furious political backlash with Tory MPs labelling the move ‘heavy handed and stupid’ as they also accused Mr Drakeford of having ‘small man syndrome’. 

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said yesterday that ‘putting a border between England and Wales is unconstitutional’ and warned it would put the police in an ‘invidious position’.

But Mr Drakeford has complained that Mr Johnson failed to reply to two letters requesting he introduce the measure across the UK.

The Welsh Government’s plans will bring people elsewhere in the UK in line with measures currently in place in the 17 areas of Wales under local lockdown restrictions.

Under those rules, people must not enter or leave an affected area without a reasonable excuse such as work or education.

But currently, people living in Covid-19 hotspots elsewhere in the UK are free to enter areas of Wales not under restrictions where levels of the virus are low.

The ban is likely to apply to people living in Tier Two and Tier Three areas of England and is designed to prevent them from travelling to tourist destinations such as the far west and south west of Wales, which have low levels of coronavirus.

It will also affect those living in areas of Scotland and Northern Ireland with a high prevalence of Covid-19.

Those who ignore the restrictions will be breaking the law and could face fixed penalty notices starting at £50. 

But Mark Bleasdale, Police Federation of England and Wales’ Welsh Lead, said: ‘On the face of it, this is unenforceable because of the difficulty of identifying where people are coming from and where they are going to.

‘There will also be plenty of individuals travelling legitimately from areas which are not high risk, and this will only add to the other difficulties officers face when policing the existing regulations.

‘Some areas of Wales are already in lockdown, and many individuals are already unable to travel in and out of counties unless they have good reason. In other locations provisions are more relaxed, so this proposed travel ban adds yet another level of complexity to policing.’ 

The chief executive of the Welsh NHS, Dr Andrew Goodall, said he would also ‘welcome any actions that help us have a control of the levels of community transmission’ when asked if he was in favour of the travel ban.

WHAT ARE THE THREE TIERS? 

TIER 1/MEDIUM: This is for areas where national restrictions continue to be in place. 

  • you must not socialise in groups larger than 6, indoors or outdoors 
  • certain businesses are required to ensure customers only consume food and drink while seated, and must close between 10pm and 5am 
  • businesses and venues selling food for consumption off the premises can continue to do so after 10pm as long as this is a take-out service 
  • places of worship remain open, subject to the rule of 6
  • weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on numbers of attendees 
  • exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors, or indoors with the rule of 6

TIER 2/HIGH: On top of restrictions in alert level medium:

  • you must not socialise with anybody outside of your household or support bubble in any indoor setting
  • you must not socialise in a group of more than 6 outside, including in a garden
  • exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors. These will only be permitted indoors if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with people they do not live with or share a support bubble with, or for youth or disability sport 
  • you can continue to travel to venues or amenities that are open, for work or to access education, but should look to reduce the number of journeys you make where possible 

TIER 3/VERY HIGH: At a minimum, this means:

  • you must not socialise with anybody you do not live with, or have formed a support bubble with, in any indoor setting or in any private garden
  • you must not socialise in a group of more than 6 in an outdoor public space such as a park 
  • pubs and bars must close and can only remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant, which means serving substantial meals 
  • places of worship remain open, but household mixing is not permitted  
  • weddings (but not receptions) and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of attendees 
  • you should avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK if you are resident in a very-high alert level area

The government will also seek to agree additional interventions in consultation with local authorities.

Source: Gov.uk 

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