Covid: Pubs busy as most rules end in Wales

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Men in pub
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Pubs were busy as rugby fans headed out to watch the Lions face South Africa

Towns and cities in Wales are getting busy, with a "big party" predicted after the end of most Covid regulations.

Wales has moved to Covid alert level zero, meaning social distancing rules and most other restrictions have ended.

Nick Newman of the Cardiff Licensees Forum said bars started filling up from 11:00 BST.

Masks are still needed in shops, and First Minister Mark Drakeford has urged people to be sensible.

The UK government said on Saturday a further 103 people had died within 28 days of a positive Covid test, with 28,612 cases confirmed.

Case rates in Wales are the lowest of the four nations, but chief medical officer Frank Atherton has said the country remains in a "third wave of coronavirus infection".

Mr Newman said customers had been "fantastic" and "voted with their feet" throughout the pandemic when restrictions allowed.

"A lot of people were pinning their hopes on midnight last night [for the end of restrictions] but that got cancelled," said Mr Newman, who is part of the Croeso Pubs chain.

"So what you will see tonight is an even bigger party in Cardiff central, which is what we are famous for."

"At 11am, we saw the bars start to fill up, with it the first day of the football season and then the Lions after."

However, he said some measures remained in place.

At one of his pubs, The Philharmonic, thermal imagining cameras will determine who is allowed in, and there will be hand sanitisers.

Image source, Tiny Rebel Brewery
Image caption,
Tiny Rebel Brewery staff and customers celebrated "freedom day" in Newport

The first minister said on Friday he was confident Wales was on the "final lap" of emerging from the pandemic, providing there were no "further unexpected turns in the course of the virus".

However, he warned against a "free-for-all" after most restrictions ended.

In England, most rules were relaxed on 19 July, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson postponed so-called "Freedom Day" by a month when cases of the Delta variant surged.

The 103 additional coronavirus deaths reported in the UK on Saturday brings the total to 130,281 since the start of the pandemic.

Across the UK, 86,207,851 Covid jabs were administered on Friday, with 46,997,495 first doses and 39,210,356 second doses.

What Covid rules are changing in Wales?

What do people think about the easing of restrictions?

Bosses at Galeri theatre and cinema in Caernarfon said a questionnaire among customers showed some wanted to keep social distancing in place.

"We feel we need time to talk with staff and our customers and make sure that everyone feels safe moving forwards," said team leader Naomi Saunders.

"For the time being we are keeping with social distancing due to the fact that the announcement has come so last minute."

Image caption,
Towns and cities around Wales have been busy with the end of social distancing, including Caernarfon

The Three Horseshoes pub in Tonyrefail, Rhondda Cynon Taf, will see live acts, pool and darts return on Saturday for the first time since before the pandemic.

Landlord Martin Barron said: "I think people will look forward to it, you can watch an act, grab a beer and it gives people a reason to come out."

He said it would be operating at about 80% capacity because "we are trying to get to normal but the risk is still there".

Image source, Martin Barron
Image caption,
Customers can order at the bar of The Three Horseshoes again, but Mr Barron has put control measures in place to limit any risk

The Welsh Beer and Pub Association has welcomed the end of restrictions and said it meant more than 150 pubs in Wales which had yet to reopen could now do so on Saturday.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive, said: "This is the good news our brewers and pubs in Wales have been waiting for.

"A pint on Saturday is going to taste all the sweeter."

'Huge relief'

Image source, Restpoint Cafe
Image caption,
Although staff are relieved about easing restrictions, they still want customers to feel safe

Staff at a cafe in Newport have also welcomed the relaxation of mask rules, calling it a "huge relief".

Laura Leach, who owns the Restpoint Cafe, said: "A lot of our customers come in for the social aspect, so trying to have a conversation while wearing a mask makes it impossible."

She also said it would ease pressures on her and staff to "challenge non-mask wearers", after "hardly anyone was complying" with the rules after the first lockdown.

Ms Leach said staff would be thrilled to remove their masks while in the kitchen but would still wear masks when serving and continue social distancing.

Image caption,
Retailer Philip Bottrill has been preparing his stationery shop for fewer restrictions

Philip Bottrill, of The Pen & Paper Stationery Co in Cardiff, said everyone needed to move "steadily" and "gently" toward normality.

"It isn't going to happen overnight," he said.

"But we do need to build our trade up because, since we've reopened, we are only taking about 60% of what we took in 2019."

'Don't forget about us'

While some are excited to see restrictions eased, for others it is a more daunting prospect.

Sasha Robbins, a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy from Pontypridd said she felt "excited" about rules relaxing but was "really cautious" about the future after shielding throughout the pandemic.

Shielding advice was paused on 1 April this year, with no expectation that people would need to shield again in the future, chief medical officer Frank Atherton said.

"Prior to it [the pandemic] I had a really active social life but now I've noticed there's things out there that I can't control," she said.

That became more of a realisation for Ms Robbins, 32, when her father contracted Covid-19 when visiting the hospital for a routine check-up.

Image source, Sasha Robbins
Image caption,
“We’ve been shut out for quite some time,” Ms Robbins says

He ended up in intensive care and lost his leg.

She said she was worried about people's attitudes now that almost all social restrictions are being relaxed and has faced some unpleasant experiences during the pandemic.

"Some venomous things have been said to me just because I'm me and I don't understand it," she said.

She urged people not to "forget" disabled people.

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales said she feared disabled people would be locked out of society.

Ms Davies said the unlocking of restrictions could "exacerbate a two-tier system of people feeling like a second-class citizen" without "strong messaging from public bodies".

"Just because someone isn't a wheelchair user, hasn't got a white cane or a guide dog, doesn't mean they're not at risk," she said.

Jessica Leigh, from disability charity Scope, said many disabled people would be anxious about the changes.

"The government's decision to lift restrictions leaves some clinically extremely vulnerable people or those not yet vaccinated at the mercy of others' goodwill," she said.

'Everyone's like a coiled spring ready to go'

Image source, Keanu Morris
Image caption,
The first competitive community rugby matches in Wales since March 2020 are set to take place around Wales on Saturday

Crickhowell Rugby Club will play its first competitive community match since February 2020.

Bleddyn Carrington, team manager and full-back, said "everyone is like a coiled spring ready to go".

"Players are excited, the chats on the WhatsApp group are getting a bit intense," he said.

"You get nervous thinking 'am I good enough after 18 months?'"

Six weeks ago the team were not able to do contact drills, train for more than one hour and use showers, but Saturday marks a return to competitive action.

The team played its first friendly match on 19 July against Brecon Seconds but Mr Carrington said it would not compare to being in the competitive environment.

"It's an electric feeling having crowds watching you, hearing your name called when you catch a ball or make a tackle… you forget what it's like."

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