'Cautious approach' to ending lockdown in Wales to be announced by First Minister

A "cautious approach" to easing the lockdown restrictions in Wales are expected to be announced today by the First Minister.

It means Wales will join Scotland in announcing a continuation of lockdown for the next three weeks, with only a minor relaxation of some rules ahead of changes for England which are due to be announced by Boris Johnson on Sunday.

The changes in Wales are likely to include allowing people to leave the house more than once a day for exercise, but with continued restrictions on leaving the local area.

The message "Stay Safe, Stay Home" could be replaced with "Stay Safe, Stay Local."

So the message Credit: PA

Some non-essential retail outlets could be allowed to reopen but with social distancing rules in place meaning that people may be able to go again, for instance, to garden centres and farmers' markets.

Ahead of the announcement, Plaid Cymru's leaders have written to both the First Minister and Prime Minister urging them "not to make any significant changes."

Adam Price and Liz Saville Roberts also say there should be no change to the overall message to stay home and save lives. "This is a clear andsimple request," they say. "Even a slight change in that message risks confusion with potentially disastrous consequences.

Mark Drakeford will explain his plans in a press conference at 12:30pm.

It follows a special meeting of his cabinet last night after reviewing how the current lockdown has affected the spread of coronavirus.

Welsh ministers are said to have decided to adopt "an incredibly cautious approach" because they do not want to take any action which would risk increasing the rate of transmission of Covid-19 measured by the 'R' number.

The R value is defined as the average number of people an infected person can expect to pass the virus on to before any widespread immunity Credit: PA

While the Prime Minister is leading the UK-wide approach to the coronavirus crisis, he doesn't have the power to set and alter lockdown rules in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which have been introduced by all four governments simultaneously.

Despite some differences, the four-nation approach has held together reasonably well until now when it seems there'll be much more divergence even if it's largely a question of the way it's presented rather than any substantial differences.

The prime minister is said to have said to have 'reiterated his commitment' to continuing our UK-wide approach Credit: PA

Boris Johnson admitted as much in his phone call on Thursday with Mark Drakeford along with Nicola Sturgeon and the leaders of Northern Ireland.

During the call he is said to have "reiterated his commitment to continuing our UK-wide approach to tackling coronavirus, even if different parts of the UK begin to move at slightly different speeds. Those decisions will be made based on the science for each nation."

  • More analysis: Regardless of headlines celebrating "freedom," the UK Government is going to adopt a cautious approach

The UK government is expected to also take a cautious approach in lifting any restrictions Credit: PA

Privately in Cardiff and in Westminster there has been some concern that an apparent gung-ho approach to easing the restrictions fuelled briefings, which in turn, led to headlines celebrating the end of lockdown before it had come anywhere near.

Behind the scenes, the governments also seem to have struggled to understand each other at times.

UK Government officials and ministers, while cautious, have been more keen to see an early roadmap out of lockdown because of fears the measures which are helping deal with the virus could inflict new harms in health and economic terms.

Meanwhile, the devolved governments have been frustrated their concerns about the message suggesting that lockdown is over, will lead to an increase in the rate of transmission of the virus.

Regardless of headlines celebrating "freedom," the UK Government is going to adopt a cautious approach.

The Prime Minister said in his phone call that "the [UK] Government will not throw away the efforts and sacrifices of the British people' and told the First Ministers that 'we will not risk a second peak that could overwhelm the NHS, and we will act with maximum caution in order to save lives."

That suggests the four governments are not that far away from each other except in presentational terms, although it will raise questions as to how the four-nation decision-making process, previously seen as successful, could have been undermined for now.

Mark Drakeford's Welsh Government has been criticised by some for being too determined to stick to that approach, even when it felt rebuffed by London.

Privately some within the government have been warning that ministers in London have only paid lip-service to the principle of consulting the devolved administrations although the four governments have been working together well at official level.

There is a feeling in both governments that the current divergence is only temporary, that continued lockdown for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland isn't that far removed from 'roadmap phase 1' for the UK Government.

That will be tested in the coming weeks. In the coming days, expect to see a flurry of activity.

After the First Minister announces the lockdown changes for Wales, attention will turn to what Boris Johnson has to say.

He is holding a special weekend virtual cabinet meeting and Cobra is due to meet on Sunday. The First Ministers will take part in that meeting.

He will also talk to opposition leaders at Westminster, including from Plaid Cymru on Sunday.

Then on Sunday night, he will use a TV address to set out the changes for England. That will come into force on Monday, as will the changes for Wales.

That is when we'll be able to see how different they will be in different parts of the UK, and that is when it will get complicated for all of us.