Covid: People living alone in Wales' lockdown areas can meet others

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Mark Drakeford announces plans to help people living alone in local lockdown areas

People living alone in areas under local lockdown can meet one other household indoors, Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed.

People living in areas with tighter restrictions are currently banned from meeting anyone else inside.

Mr Drakeford said people in single-adult households will be allowed to form a bubble with people from one other household in their county.

No other major changes were made to Wales' nationwide coronavirus regulations, but Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government will increase powers for local authorities to fine people who organise house parties.

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A total of 15 Welsh counties and one town currently have local lockdown measures in place

Local lockdown areas now cover 2.3 million people living in 16 different areas in north and south Wales - a majority of the country's population.

In those areas, rules allowing people to form extended households of four different homes have been suspended.

Areas are placed on a watchlist if a case rate of 20 per 100,000 people is recorded over seven days and a local lockdown is triggered if this figure reaches 50, Mr Drakeford said.

Newport, Cardiff, Conwy, Flintshire, Denbighshire, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham were all placed into local lockdowns with case rates of lower than 50 per 100,000 people, but the first minister said restrictions could be imposed if counties were "about to reach" the threshold.

Lifting restrictions was "more complicated" than imposing them and local rules would be lifted gradually, he added.

"It's not going to be a position where all local restrictions are in place on one day and they all disappear the next," he said.

"When we're in a position where numbers are falling and are below the 50 threshold reliably…then I want to be able to ease those local restrictions."

Image source, Getty Images
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Rules will be relaxed in Wales allowing single people to form a social bubble with one other household

Last weekend, Mr Drakeford told Wales on Sunday he had asked officials "to look at the Scottish household model".

In Scotland, a single person living alone, or with just children aged 18 or under, can meet indoors with people from one other household.

Mr Drakeford told BBC Breakfast: "We're increasingly aware of the impact that [local lockdown] has on adults living alone and we're easing the restrictions so that single adult households will be able to form an alliance with one other household from within that county area.

"The idea is to ease some of that sense of loneliness, isolation, not being able to talk to anybody else.

"There's more than one form of harm from coronavirus and a sense of mental wellbeing is an important thing we can make a difference to with this change.

"Creating temporary bubbles for single people and single parents in local lockdown areas will make sure they have the emotional support they need during this time," he added at a press conference on Friday afternoon.

But he added that any bubble in local lockdown areas must be within the same county, while the rule of six, which limits the number of people who can meet indoors, would apply.

"I wish we could restore the freedom for everyone to travel to see people who live in other parts of Wales, but the further we travel and the more journeys we make, the more risks we run," he told BBC Radio Wales.

'Dark days'

Carol Fry, a teacher from Cardiff who lives alone, welcomed the change: "My hobbies, my social life has been curtailed. It is a very depressing, very upsetting situation when you can't do the things that you normally do, to brighten your day.

"I can't drive to my favourite places, I can't visit my family. It does get to you after a while. I found that so long as I keep myself busy with work I, with my pets, can manage.

"There are dark days and some days where you feel like you're just invisible. My family are a long way away, they're all in England and I miss them very much."

Responding to the first minister's announcement, Welsh Conservative health spokesman Andrew RT Davies warned: "The lockdowns have been a long haul, and we're not through it yet.

"So while I welcome this decision, the importance of longer-term solutions to the issue of isolation and the effect it can have on a person's mental health cannot be overestimated."

Rhun ap Iorwerth, who speaks for Plaid Cymru on health, said he was "pleased that the welfare of people living alone is being addressed" but called for a "wider strategy taking into account all the information we now have on the impact of coronavirus and lockdown on well-being and mental health".

"From the impact on our youngest children - including the effects of a disrupted education - right through to the impact on our elderly and most vulnerable who we know are more likely to suffer the effects of loneliness and isolation, we need a strategy that encompasses all of the Welsh population at this most challenging of times."

Image source, Matthew Horwood/Getty Images
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Mr Drakeford has urged Boris Johnson to stop people from hotspot areas of England traveling to Wales

Call to stop tourism from England's hotspots

Mr Drakeford also reiterated calls to stop people from areas in England with restrictions in place travelling to parts of Wales not under lockdown.

He said he had written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but had yet to receive a response.

Currently, people living in locked down areas of Wales cannot leave their own county, but people from other parts of the UK could travel to anywhere in Wales which do not have local restrictions.

On Wednesday, Mr Johnson told Parliament there "seeming illogicalities" to different measures but "that's inevitable in tackling a pandemic".

The first minister said he would be "open" to reimplementing a stay local rule, like at the start of the pandemic when people could only travel five miles from their homes, but said the "best thing" would be to have consistent rules in England and Wales.

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Liz Saville Roberts: "Leisure travel from lookdown areas has got to stop"

Mr Drakeford said: "In our hotspot areas, you are not allowed to travel in or out of those areas without a good reason for doing so, and going on holiday is not a good reason.

"Yet people in hotspots in England are able to travel through all of those areas and go on holiday in the far west of Wales.

"There's understandable anxiety in those communities that people from where the virus is in very violent circulation could come and bring that virus with them."

Margaret Ferrier: Labour MS 'would be suspended' for breach

Speaking at Friday's press conference, Mr Drakeford said any Labour MS would be suspended from the Senedd if they knowingly broke coronavirus restrictions.

Margaret Ferrier, an SNP MP, travelled to London via train after having a Covid-19 test, before returning the following day after her result came back positive.

She has had the whip withdrawn, but has not stepped down despite calls from party leader Nicola Sturgeon.

Mr Drakeford said: "That's a rule I try to apply in my own life, that if other people are being asked to follow restrictions, I must scrupulously follow those restrictions myself.

"If there were to be a member of my group who knowingly and deliberately broke the rules, then they would find themselves suspended immediately."

What are local lockdowns?

In a local lockdown area people cannot travel in or out without a "reasonable excuse". Those include:

  • to work, if you cannot work from home
  • to provide care
  • travelling to education
  • elite athletic training and competitions
  • to provide or receive emergency assistance
  • to meet a legal obligation, and to access or receive public services
  • to avoid injury or illness or escape a risk of harm

You can travel through the areas, so roads such as the A55 and M4 can continue to be used.

Individuals can only meet outside their own household outside.

The rules apply in every Welsh county, except for Monmouthshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Gwynedd, Anglesey and Powys. Llanelli is the only part of Carmarthenshire affected by the rules.

Lockdown restrictions were introduced to deal with a rise in coronavirus cases, with Caerphilly the first area to see their introduction in early September.