From 'stay at home' to the five-mile rule: The Covid restrictions we’ve all lived through in Wales

From a ban on meeting friends and family indoors to 'non-essential' items cordoned off in supermarkets, we have lived through many different restrictions. Credit: PA

All Covid restrictions - including the requirement to self-isolate - are set be scrapped in Wales on March 28, the Welsh Government has announced

This means we will have lived with some form of Covid restrictions for more than two years, since the first lockdown was introduced back in March 2020.

Here’s a look back at some of the most notable - the remainder of which we will soon be saying goodbye to.

  • Stay at home

On March 23rd, 2020, we were all issued a clear instruction. Stay at home - except for very limited purposes. 

A sign urges people to stay at home in the Brecon Beacons - March 2020. Credit: PA

Schools and non-essential shops closed, people could not visit those they didn't live with, and gatherings of more than two people in public were banned - with measures enforceable by police.

During these early months, we could only leave our homes to exercise once a day.

  • The ‘five-mile rule’

In June 2020, as cases fell, the First Minister announced that the “stay at home” message was changing to “stay local”. We were urged to use “five miles as a guide”. 

Police stopping cars in Wales whilst the five-mile rule was in force. Credit: PA

This proved to be controversial and difficult to police - particularly since in England, people had been allowed to travel unlimited distances since mid-May.

The rule was scrapped by July 2020, with many living in rural areas saying the limit of five miles was unfair on them.

  • Face masks

In July 2020, face masks became compulsory for people using public transport. By September 2020 - as cases began to rise again - face masks also became compulsory in indoor public places.

As of March 4, 2022, face masks are still a legal requirement on public transport, in shops and in healthcare settings. But along with the other remaining restrictions, that is set to end on March 28.

People wear face masks on the promenade at Barry Island - September 2020. Credit: PA Images
  • Household bubbles 

The rules on meeting others indoors changed regularly in response to rising and falling case numbers.

During the first lockdown, it was illegal to meet anyone not from your own household indoors.

By July 2020, the first so-called household bubbles were introduced when Mark Drakeford announced that two households could form what was known as an ‘extended household’. The following month - as cases stayed low - bubbles were increased to four households.

But by the Autumn of 2020, as cases rose and local lockdowns began, many areas of Wales saw extended households banned again.

  • The ‘firebreak’ and the ban on non-essential items

At the end of October 2020, with cases rising, the First Minister announced a 17 day ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown for Wales. 

People were told to stay at home, except for very limited purposes, and not to visit people they did not live with. Schools closed to all pupils aged year 9 and up.

One of the most controversial aspects of the firebreak was the so-called non-essential items ban.

An aisle containing "non-essential" items is blocked off from shoppers in a supermarket near Cardiff, October 2020. Credit: PA

Supermarkets were told they must only sell essential items to discourage people from spending more time than necessary in shops and to be fair to retailers who have had to shut.

It led to some supermarkets taping off aisles where books, baby clothes and birthday cards could be purchased.

Tens of thousands signed a petition demanding the rule be scrapped, describing it as “disproportionate and cruel”.

  • Christmas is cancelled

UK-wide rules for Christmas 2020 were initially agreed upon by the four nations, which would have allowed families across the UK to form bubbles of three households for a period of five days.

Christmas was effectively cancelled for millions across the UK, as Covid cases surged in December 2020. Credit: PA

But on 16th December 2020, as cases continued rising, it was announced that only two households would be able to form Christmas bubbles in Wales.

Three days later, on December 19, the situation changed again and Mr Drakeford announced that Wales would move to Alert Level 4 from midnight, with the rules allowing two households to form a bubble over Christmas now only applying to Christmas Day.

The UK Government announced similar restrictions for millions of people living in England, with a number of newspaper headlines at the time stating: “Christmas is cancelled.”

A full lockdown followed, and rules did not begin to ease in Wales until Februrary 2021.

  • Covid passes

Covid passes did not receive support from opposition parties in Wales. Credit: PA

Covid passes were introduced in Wales in October 2021, following a fresh uptick in cases. The passes meant that anyone attending a nightclub or large event needed to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test result.

Their introduction was not without controversy, as all three opposition parties united to oppose them. 

In the end, the law change was passed by a single vote after one opposition member was unable to join remotely. 

Covid passes were eventually scrapped in February 2022.

  • Omicron surge + new restrictions

In November 2021, the Welsh Government raised concerns about a new variant of Covid, known as Omicron.

By December, there were fresh fears about the possibility of another cancelled Christmas, and a race to offer booster jabs to all over-18s by the end of the year.

All over-18s were offered a booster jab by the end of December 2021 following concerns about the Omicron variant. Credit: PA

On Boxing Day, new restrictions were imposed - which included a return of the 2m rule and a rule of six in places like cinemas and theatres.

The maximum number of people who could gather was limited to 30 indoors and 50 outdoors.

By mid-January 2022, as fears about the severity of Omicron were allayed, Mark Drakeford announced a gradual return to Alert Level 0.