Free at last! Welsh revellers hit the town as Principality emerges from two-week ‘firebreak’ Covid lockdown – just as England goes in
- Welsh revellers braved the driving rain to hit the town in Cardiff city centre last night after 17-day firebreak
- The restrictions were lifted after being brought in to tackled rocketing coronavirus cases all over the country
- Mark Drakeford announced a ‘path through to Christmas’ without lockdown as Welsh firebreak ended today
- Families celebrated the opportunity to see people again face to face but were warned to still be vigilant
Welsh revellers hit the town last night after the Principality’s two-week ‘firebreak’ coronavirus lockdown came to an end.
The restrictions were finally lifted after the government imposed the strict shutdown last month against a backdrop of rocketing Covid-19 cases.
Now, Covid-19 case rates have fallen in almost every part of Wales, with the biggest drops seen in Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot and Torfaen – though it is unclear if the ‘firebreak’ is responsible.
To mark their freedom, people flocked to bars and restaurants in Cardiff yesterday evening, braving the rain to mix and meet with friends after two weeks apart.
It comes as England went into its own two-week lockdown to battle a surge in coronavirus cases all over the country.
As part of their freedom, four people groups from different households are now allowed to join up in cafes, pubs and restaurants.
Non-essential shops, as well as gyms, hairdressers and places of worship can reopen again and supermarkets can restart selling non-essential items after controversy over what is or isn’t essential
However, alcohol sales are still restricted to a 10pm curfew, though it didn’t stop people flocking to the city centre in Cardiff last night.
People enjoying the first night of being able to return to pubs and restaurants in Cardiff, South Wales after a 17-day lockdown
Wales’ 17 day firebreak lockdown ended on Monday with the reopening of non essential shops and the hospitality industry
To mark their freedom, people flocked to bars and restaurants in Cardiff yesterday evening, braving the rain to mix and meet with friends after two weeks apart
Alcohol sales are still restricted to a 10pm curfew, though it didn’t stop people flocking to the city centre in Cardiff last night
Freedom was embraced by Welsh families earlier in the day as they headed out to towns and Ikea.
They said they were ‘so excited to see some real people’ and ‘get back to the new normal this week’ as the lockdown eased.
And if Ikea in Cardiff was anything to go by, the lockdown also festered a burning desire for flatpack furniture and Swedish designs.
Lines stretching through from the tills through the entire self-picking warehouse were visible in the flagship branch.
While the store seemed packed, customers did their best to social-distance and all appeared to be wearing facemasks.
Earlier queues had started forming at low-cost clothes shop Primark, which had reopened after over a fortnight of being shut.
The Cardiff branch had lines of eager shoppers waiting outside already when it flung open its doors at 9am yesterday. Hairdressers were also popular as hirsute Welshmen and women journeyed to get their lockdown barnets snipped.
People sit outside bars in the centre of Cardiff, South Wales as pubs and bars reopen for the first night after the firebreak lockdown ended
Covid restrictions have been eased with shopping for non essential goods now allowed and pubs, cafes and restaurants reopening
One pub vowed to check every customer’s ID to see if they were supposed to be in Wales and turn them away if they were not
And while pubs unbolted their doors to welcome drinkers back people from England – where a national lockdown is still in place – were warned not to break the rules and try to sneak across to nearby border towns.
One pub vowed to check every customer’s ID to see if they were supposed to be in Wales and turn them away if they were not.
One border crossing at Chepstow showed a number of cars coming through, but there was no suggestion they were doing anything but exempt essential travel.
The firebreak lifting now means schools, places of worship and all businesses can now reopen again.
Free travel is allowed – within Wales – and groups of 30 or 15 can take part in organised activity.
Ikea was a huge hit amongst the Welsh public, who had been denied the chance to buy its furniture for the past 17 days
The queue was so long it stretched all the way back from the tills through the self-picking warehouse area of the store
The eager shoppers wanted to take advantage of the new rules, which allow non-essential stores to open back up again
Pubs were welcoming people back into their bars, but ones in Wrexham said they would checking drinkers were from Wales
Drinkers in the City Arms in Cardiff raise a pint to the lockdown being lifted after a gruelling 17 days of firebreak restrictions
Businesses in Wrexham are worried that its proximity to the Welsh and English border may see people try to sneak over
Cars cross the Anglo-Welsh border in Chepstow on the day its lockdown was lifted with essential only travel in and out
Cardiff was busier than it was during the firebreak, after the Welsh Government announced non-essential shops could open
Members of the public in Wales were out in force on Monday morning to try and get some shopping done after lockdown
Not even the rain could dissuade hardened shoppers from braving the conditions to go to their favourite stores in Wales
Welsh Twitter users were overjoyed with the country coming out of lockdown and posted their celebrations online.
Businesses in Wrexham, which is just a few miles into Wales, said they feared English trying to sneak over for drinks and meals out.
Matt McHale, who runs the La Baguette sandwich shop, told The Guardian: ‘It’s bound to happen. The border is so close. Chester is only 25 minutes away and Liverpool isn’t very far. I don’t see how the police will be able to stop people crossing.’
Rules of the ‘new normal’ in post firebreak Wales
Four people groups from different households allowed to join up in cafes, pubs and restaurants.
Non-essential shops, as well as gyms, hairdressers and places of worship can reopen again.
Supermarkets can restart selling non-essential items.
A ‘bubble’ with one other household can be formed and they can meet inside home.
Alcohol sales are still restricted to a 10pm curfew.
Travel in Wales is reopened but not outside the country unless for essential reasons.
Social distancing of two-metres still in place and face masks in enclosed public places.
Work from home if you can.
Groups of 15 people can take part in organised indoor activity and and 30 outdoors, if Covid-secure.
Schools for all years to completely reopen.
Mark Finlay, the operations manager for pubs and bars including the Fat Boar in Wrexham, said they would be asking people for ID and turning them away if they were not living in Wales.
Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford welcomed the new phase of freedom but urged people to still be vigilant.
He said: ‘We all need to think about our own lives and what we can all do to keep our families safe.
‘We need to stop thinking about the maximum limit of rules and regulations.
‘Coronavirus is a highly infectious virus – it thrives on contact between people.
To keep each other safe we need to reduce the number of people we have contact with and the amount of time we spend with them.
‘There will be a new set of national measures from today, which will follow up all the hard work and sacrifices which have been made during the firebreak.
‘We cannot go back to the way we were living our lives and throw away all that hard work.’
He added in a press conference today that Covid-19 was ‘full of unpleasant surprises’ following the discovery of a new mutated strain of coronavirus in mink in Denmark.
‘We won’t know the full impact of our firebreak for a couple of weeks yet but there are some tentative early positive signs, which gives us some hope,’ Mr Drakeford said.
‘Mobility data shows large increases in people staying at home during the firebreak, similar to levels seen in May.
‘It is vital that working from home continues beyond today.’
The country’s health minister, Vaughan Gething, has urged people to use these services wisely in order to avoid ‘throwing away’ the progress made in lockdown and having to go into another one.
Mr Gething announced that Covid-19 case rates are ‘levelling off’ and that mass testing will be considered in high infection areas such as Merthyr and the valleys.
And he added that the full benefits of the firebreak lockdown wouldn’t be known for at least two weeks.
Wales’s firebreak was initiated because the number Covid patients in the country’s hospitals is at its highest since the peak of the pandemic in April.
The lifting of restrictions will come four days into England’s fresh nationwide lockdown and further underscore the different strategies being adopted across the Union.
Mr Gething warned that treatments for cancer, heart and stroke issues could be affected if coronavirus infections go up again.
But he told the BBC: ‘We think we’re starting to see a plateauing, a levelling off, in the rates of coronavirus across the country.
‘It’s still at a high rate which means that there’s still a reservoir of coronavirus within our communities.’
Welsh Conservatives are pushing for local lockdowns in high infection areas in the hopes of avoiding another ‘draconian’ firebreak lockdown.
However Mr Gething said: ‘If we breach trust with the public and extend the end of the firebreak, having been clear it would come to an end, I don’t think people would be prepared to trust the government again and go along with what we want people to do.’
Covid-19 case rates have fallen in almost every part of Wales, latest figures show.
The biggest drops are in Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot and Torfaen.
It is too soon for the figures to reflect any real impact of the 17-day firebreak in Wales, which officially ended on Monday.
But the downward trend in most parts of the country suggests the recent surge in cases may have peaked.
The figures, for the seven days to November 5, are based on tests carried out in NHS Wales laboratories and those conducted on Welsh residents processed in commercial laboratories.
They show that the number of new cases per 100,000 people in Merthyr Tydfil has dropped week-on-week from 752.6 to 586.8, while in Neath Port Talbot the rate has fallen from 404.7 to 287.5.
In Torfaen the rate is down from 272.5 to 155.4.
The three local authority areas to record a rise in rates are Bridgend, Ceredigion and Vale of Glamorgan.