The Welsh Government has revealed what it calls a “cautious” approach to for exiting lockdown. The road map is called 'Unlocking our society and economy: continuing the conversation'.
There are no dates provided for when changes could be made. Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We have avoided dates because we thought the danger was that if we provided dates as people focus exclusively on dates and don't focus on the process we will need to go through which is if we have reached the right moment to proceed with the stages."
Under current lockdown rules, people in Wales have to stay at home and maintain contact only within households, with limited exceptions. The law in Wales makes it clear that these restrictions can only be kept in place for as long as they are necessary.
The traffic light categories will apply across Welsh life, including: reopening schools and childcare facilities; seeing family and friends; getting around; playing sport games and relaxing; working or running a business; going shopping; using public services; practicing faith and special occasions
The new road map proposed a traffic light approach that will signal what status various activities have. Wales is currently in the ‘red’ zone, but providing the virus remained under control, it would move to the ‘amber zone’, which would see more signs of returning to normal. The ‘green zone" would come when the country was still “on top” of the virus.
Given the importance of limiting social contact, decisions will need to be made on prioritisation. It is quite possible that Wales will be on ‘red’ for one type of activities, ‘amber’ for another and still in lockdown for a third. The Welsh Government is inviting views on this.
Drakeford said: “With limited headroom to ease the current restrictions, choices need to be made and we want to make those choices in consultation with our partners and the people of Wales. That is why we are publishing this document, not as the final word, but as part of the continuing conversation.”
Different aspects of society will be released from lockdown at different points. Non-food retailers could be among the earliest to open, but mass social gatherings are likely to be among the last. Drakeford said: “It’s unavoidable that it's going to take longer for anything that approaches a mass gathering. Groups of people being under the same roof, or doing things in close proximity, is not going to be in the early stages at all. It will be much further down the line.”
Schools are currently only open to vulnerable pupils and children of key workers. Announcing the roadmap, Drakeford said the “ambition” was to get some children back into school before the summer break.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams has published a discussion document on how social distancing and other measures will be implemented. “Nothing would make me happier than seeing our classrooms full again,” she said. “But I want to be clear that this framework does not, and I will not, set an arbitrary date for when more pupils will return to school. Setting a date before we have more evidence, more confidence and more control over the virus would be the wrong thing to do. This will not be one decision but a series of decisions over time increasing, or if need be, decreasing operation. These changes will be complex, with many different considerations. I want the working document to be a stimulus for wider discussion and feedback.”
Decisions on easing lockdown will be informed by the Wales’ Chief Medical Officer, Frank Atherton, the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Group. The Welsh Government will also learn from the experience of other countries, as well as the UK’s new Joint Biosecurity Centre.
To avoid a second, potentially still larger, second peak, the Welsh Government said it is putting in place the infrastructure needed to manage future outbreaks of the disease. This was set out in the ‘Test, Track, Protect’ strategy, announced by Welsh Government earlier this week.
Drakeford said the roadmap would be “self-policing” rather than rely on police officers enforcing rules.
“Over the last eight weeks, we have seen an incredible effort, from all parts of our society, to respond to the unprecedented challenge to our way of life posed by the COVID-19 virus,” he said.?”As a result, we, like countries across the world are able to think about how we can move out of the lockdown. But, it is essential as we do so, that we recognise this is not a short-term crisis. Until there is a vaccine or effective treatments, we will have to live with the disease in our society and to try to control its spread and mitigate its effects.
“The challenges we face are shared with all parts of the United Kingdom. For that reason, we have always strongly supported a four-nation approach to the lifting of the lockdown. But this has to respect the responsibilities of each government to determine the speed at which it is safe to move and the balance to be struck between different forms of ‘easement’ – how to prioritise between allowing people to meet up with close family, to go shopping or to the hairdresser, to get back to work or visit the seaside.”
Speaking for the UK government, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart welcomed the roadmap. “Throughout the coronavirus crisis, the UK and Welsh governments have worked closely together every step of the way,” he said. “I am glad that this announcement brings that alignment even closer, providing more certainty for jobs and businesses across Wales.”
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