Coronavirus: Minister would like shops to reopen in two weeks

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Signage reminding shoppers of social distancing rules in a River Island store in Liverpool, as shops make preparations to reopen following the introduction of measures to bring England out of lockdown.Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Shops in England, such as this one in Liverpool, are expected to open on Monday

Wales' Economy Minister says he would "absolutely" like to see non-essential shops reopen the week of 22 June if coronavirus statistics continue to fall.

Non-essential retail has been told to prepare for a potential reopening, but has not been given the definitive go ahead.

Ken Skates said it would be a "very welcome boost" to the economy.

It is dependent on the R number - the rate of transmission, he said.

"If the R number were to creep back up to 1.2, at that moment we would likely see the loss of an additional 8,000 people in the UK.

"But of course if we do have that headroom next week when we can consider the [next] review point, then non-essential retail will be foremost in our minds."

Currently the R rate is thought to be about 0.8 in Wales.

At the last lockdown review First Minister Mark Drakeford warned non-essential retailers to prepare for potential opening, "should the evidence" support it.

The next review is expected to be announced on 19 June - changes generally come into effect the following Monday.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Social distancing is already being used by essential retailers

With non-essential shops and outdoor attractions set to open again in England from next Monday, there is pressure on the Welsh Government to follow suit.

Wales has not given precise dates on when different sectors may be released from lockdown.

Mr Skates told the daily Welsh Government press conference that announcements on reopening parts of the economy will not be made "on the hoof".

He said the Welsh approach of making changes once every three weeks was helping to give certainty to businesses.

"We have the regular rhythm of review points in Wales so that enables us to make announcements every three weeks, giving certainty to businesses that no announcements will be made on the hoof and later potentially be retracted."

He said this had been seen with zoos, with "legislation being enacted in England to keep them closed, and yet this week an announcement they will re-open".

The Welsh Conservatives called for the Welsh Government to "act now" to reopen retail. They tweeted: "Shops need to re-open. Wales needs to re-open."

Image source, Getty Images

On Tuesday the Welsh Government changed its advice on face masks, recommending their use in places where social distancing is not possible such as public transport.

The Unite union has called for Wales to follow a UK government decision to make face-coverings on public transport mandatory in England from Monday.

But Mr Skates that would not be "viable or sensible".

"First of all there'd be the question of how it would be enforced: who would carry out enforcement, who would carry out the inspections that may be required," he asked.

"Then there are questions about whether it would lead to individuals thinking that they are safer than they actually are in wearing face coverings.

"It's far more effective to wash your hands regularly and maintain good social distancing if you wish to avoid transmission of coronavirus."

Mr Skates added that the government will be holding discussion with trade unions on the matter this week "to work through the detail".

"We did not feel that making this mandatory would either be viable, or sensible," he said.