Coronavirus lockdown for several more weeks at least, says Welsh minister

Media caption,
NHS Wales chief issues stay home plea for Easter

The coronavirus lockdown will remain for "several more weeks at the very least", Wales' health minister says.

Vaughan Gething told the BBC "we need to give a much clearer message that this isn't going to end anytime soon".

But a UK government source accused Welsh ministers of jumping the gun ahead of a meeting in which the stay-at-home regime was discussed.

First Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed on Wednesday that the measures in Wales will be extended.

His government was the first in the four UK nations to make such a statement, although UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Thursday evening it was too early to lift the restrictions.

Ministers need to review the regulations, which require people to stay at home except for exercise, work, and shopping for essentials, by 16 April.

The COBRA meeting, involving ministers from the UK government, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, took place on Thursday afternoon.

Mr Raab said early signs suggested the lockdown was having an impact, but measures will need to stay in place "until we have got the evidence that clearly shows we have moved beyond the peak".

No 'definite period'

The UK government is responsible for the lockdown, which has been implemented on a per-nation basis, in England.

After attending the meeting with Mr Drakeford, Mr Gething told BBC Radio Wales UK ministers were now confirming "that the lockdown measures are in place, not just for this weekend but they won't be lifted, until we start to see the peak in infection, and the peak in demand starting to fall".

"Now, no reliable evidence or advice suggests that will be over on Easter Tuesday or within a few days afterwards," he said.

"We're being direct and honest with the public here in Wales we think that it's a matter of weeks before we're anywhere near that position."

Earlier, Mr Gething said the Welsh Government has not put a "definite period of the end of lockdown because we do want to have a conversation with all four nations about the emerging scientific evidence and advice".

"We may agree review periods for lockdown, but we need to give a much clearer message that this isn't going to end anytime soon," he said.

"We're in for several more weeks at the very least."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Welsh Government has announced it will extend the lockdown before other UK nations

He had told BBC Breakfast it was important to be "straight with the public", saying that "if we don't provide a clear message" then people might be under the impression the lockdown measures might be lifted.

A UK government source said: "We were surprised that the Welsh Government decided to jump the gun with their own plans before a COBRA meeting to discuss a UK wide approach had convened."

The source said there had been a "high level joint call" between Mr Drakeford, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart and senior UK minister Michael Gove, at the request of Mr Drakeford, "where it was agreed that a continued UK-wide approach was best for our response to fighting coronavirus, including around the measures already in place."

Image caption,
Mark Drakeford said he had to set out the position to the Welsh Assembly

Defending his position, on BBC Radio 4's World at One, Mr Drakeford said he had needed to give a clear answer on the lockdown in the Senedd.

"The difference in Wales is that the National Assembly is still sitting, unlike the House of Commons, we are meeting every week," he said.

"We met yesterday... it was inevitable that I was going to be asked questions about what we expected to happen after next week.

"I felt it was simpler to make sure that I made a statement to assembly members, and people in Wales will be clear about our position."


By BBC Wales political editor Felicity Evans

Overall the UK Government feels it is working well with the Welsh Government, but it thinks the first minister "jumped the gun" on his unilateral announcement that he would extend the lockdown into next week.

After their phone call with Mark Drakeford, I'm told UK ministers thought discussions about renewing restrictions of movement would take place at today's COBRA meeting. They wanted a UK wide approach and announcement to avoid confusion.

The Welsh Government sees it differently. The first minister says he knew he would face questions about the lockdown from assembly members in the Senedd on Wednesday afternoon.

Even more important than that, a source in Welsh Government tells me their big worry is that people might think it's ok to come to Wales next week, if there is uncertainty over whether the lockdown will be lifted.

They say they wanted to get a clear message out ahead of the Easter weekend that Wales will stay closed to tourists.