December 3, 2020

Coronavirus: Reopening Wales ‘absolutely safe’ says FM

Men wearing life vests get ready with their paddle boards as the Bala Adventure and Watersports Centre in Bala, Gwynedd Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Men wearing life vests get ready with their paddle boards as the Bala Adventure and Watersports Centre in Bala, Gwynedd

The first minister has said Wales is “absolutely safe” to visit again after he defended not opening tourism sooner.

From Saturday some holiday homes have reopened for the first time since lockdown began.

But with pubs still unable to open, the Welsh Conservatives have accused the Welsh Government of putting jobs at risk.

Mark Drakeford, on a visit to the Vale of Glamorgan, said a “step by step” approach was right to lifting lockdown.

In England, all hotels, B&Bs and campsites have been allowed to reopen since 4 July, with cleaning of shared spaces.

In Wales, only self contained accommodation, with no shared facilities, such as kitchens and bathrooms, are currently able to open.

From Monday, Welsh pubs and restaurants with outdoor spaces, will be able to welcome back customers outdoors for the first time.

But many businesses have said they will not be opening, saying it will not be viable due to the two-metre (6ft) social distancing rule, which remains in place in Wales.

Image copyright Matthew Horwood
Image caption Mark Drakeford visited The Hide in St Donats, in the Vale of Glamorgan

Mr Drakeford said easing restrictions had to be done “step by step” and he thought there would be a “gradual build-up” of people wanting to holiday in Wales and go to pubs, restaurants and cafes.

During a visit to The Hide in St Donats, Mr Drakeford said the crisis “has had a profound impact on the visitor economy” and a phased approach to reopening tourism would give businesses, staff visitors and communities the confidence for a successful reopening.

“My message to people thinking of making a visit inside Wales or to Wales, is that Wales is open, the tourism industry is beginning again,” he said.

“Visit Wales and visit Wales safely.

“The virus hasn’t gone away, we still need to do all the things we know. A social distance, hand washing, all those careful things.

“But the virus in Wales is now at a very low web of circulation.

“It’s absolutely safe to be here, but you can play your part as well.”

Mr Drakeford said he was “looking forward” to going on holiday to Pembrokeshire when he had a chance, and people could help keep others safe by avoiding crowded areas.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Walkers returned to parts of Snowdonia National Park on Saturday

But with many hotels in Wales still closed due to restrictions, Welsh Conservative MP David Jones accused the Welsh Government of being behind the UK government in making decisions.

The Clwyd West MP wrote on twitter: “Sadly the tourist season in Wales didn’t begin four weeks after England”.

Member of the Senedd, Janet Finch-Saunders, said it was not right that pubs and restaurants in Wales had to wait until 3 August before they could allow customers back inside.

Mrs Finch-Saunders said with many not having outdoor spaces, or enough room for customers, the first minister’s “uneven” proposals would have a “disastrous impact” on Welsh jobs.

Meanwhile, Mr Drakeford said the “balance is shifting” on evidence for the use of face masks.

But he doesn’t yet believe it is “sensible” to make use of them mandatory in certain situations.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Drakeford said the view of the Wales’s chief medical officer was still that face coverings should be recommended but not required.

“When the weight of evidence changes, if it does, then we will change our policy.”

In Wales, face coverings are recommended in situations where people cannot socially distance, like on public transport.

But their use is not mandatory.

Both the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru are calling for face coverings to be mandatory on public transport and in shops, as is the case in Scotland.

Rhun ap Iorwerth, Plaid health spokesman said “every possible measure to help us leave lockdown safely should be adopted and we have consistently called for the use of face masks in public spaces where social distancing is difficult”.