Non-essential shops to reopen in Wales, but five-mile rule to remain

Non-essential shops along with some other businesses will be told they will be able to reopen from Monday, in a major easing of the lockdown rules in Wales.

Retail outlets such as fashion stores have been closed since the UK entered a nationwide lockdown in March.

The First Minister will make the announcement at a press conference on Friday when he is also expected to unveil a series of other changes.

He is expected to say that Wales is moving into the "amber" phase of the Welsh Government’s traffic light system for easing lockdown.

However, the five-mile "rule of thumb" aimed at persuading people to "stay local" will remain for another two weeks.

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales on Friday morning, Mark Drakeford confirmed that the "stay local" rule would be lifted on July 6 as long as the virus "is where it needs to be". This means that, from that date, people may be allowed to travel however far they want to and for whatever reason.

There has been considerable pressure on the Welsh Government to allow non-essential retail to reopen as happened in England this week.

But Mark Drakeford has insisted that the decision would be taken when his, and other governments, in the UK are legally obliged to review the lockdown restrictions, which happened on Thursday.

Shoppers queued outside shops across England as non-essential stores reopened for the first time since March Credit: PA

He had previously given those businesses notice to prepare for reopening at the time of the last review three weeks ago.

It is likely that businesses operating in the tourism and hospitality industry will get a similar three-week notice today to prepare for partial reopening by introducing social distancing and other measures.

Repeated hints from the First Minister suggest that those in the hospitality sector allowed to begin taking bookings will need to demonstrate accommodation they offer is entirely self-contained.

So holiday cottages, glamping sites, hostels and hotels that can guarantee visitors will not share any facilities, can expect to be among the first to reopen when the five-mile rule is eventually dropped.

Holiday cottages, glamping sites, hostels and hotels that can guarantee visitors will not share any facilities, can expect to be among the first to reopen Credit: ITV

The First Minister held a video conferencing call with representatives of both sectors on Thursday. They have been increasingly vocal about the need for a reopening plan to be set out clearly. Many have been critical about what they say has been a lack of urgency from the Welsh Government on this matter.

I understand that other changes likely to be announced could include allowing more outdoor activities to go ahead, allowing outdoor markets and sports facilities such as some tennis courts and bowling greens to reopen. It is not clear if zoos will be included in that group.

There is also likely to be a clear restatement of the previously-announced plan to let schools reopen from June 29th. That plan has hit a bit of trouble in the last few days, but compromises by the Education Minister and the unions involved seem to have resolved it. However one teaching union, the NAHT, said the plans have been "thrown into confusion."

I will be looking out too for any new guidance on interactions between different households. "Support bubbles" as they’re known have allowed for some emotional reunions in England between grandparents and grandchildren and others who’ve been separated for the last few months.

'Support bubbles' have been introduced in England

The Conservatives say the Welsh Government has listened to their calls to reopen non-essential shops.

Paul Davies, the Opposition leader said, "The Welsh Labour Government has finally woken up and listened to our calls to begin to re-open the Welsh economy in a safe and sensible way to protect lives and livelihoods.

"But while we welcome this announcement, it frankly beggars belief as to why travel restrictions are not being lifted too. Many retailers need custom from a wide area to survive and will go to the wall if they are forced to rely on local trade alone.

Plaid Cymru wants restrictions lifted as quickly as it is safe to do.

The party's health spokesperson Rhun ap Iorwerth said, "The announcement will not come as a surprise and many people will be glad to see yet another element of easing restrictions. However, we need to know not only which restrictions are being eased in the here and now, but also which restrictions are expected to be lifted in the weeks and months ahead.

“Three weeks ago the First Minister asked non-essential shops to prepare to re-open safely. What we need to know now is which businesses and which sectors will be given guidance next to prepare for safe re-opening in three weeks’ time.

“I’m calling on the First Minister to relax restrictions as fast and as safely as possible and to consistently test and challenge the decisions they take as we move towards a new normality.

“However, the outbreak in my constituency has shown that the threat of the coronavirus is still very, very real."

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