Freedom was embraced by Welsh families today and headed straight to Primark as the country came out of its 17-day firebreak coronavirus lockdown – but newly reopened businesses warned the English they were not welcome for now.
The restrictions were finally lifted after the government imposed the strict shutdown last months against a backdrop of rocketing Covid-19 cases.
It prompted early celebrations from some Welsh residents who said they were ‘so excited to see some real people’ and ‘get back to the new normal this week’.
Queues 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 today.
But people from England – where a national lockdown is still in place – have been 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.
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.
Gareth David Jones hailed the end of the shutdown and said he would be taking to the streets to celebrate.
He said: ‘Lockdown officially over here in Wales.
‘6am and jogging! I’ve not jogged for years – wish me luck.’
A Twitter user called Deb added: ‘I’m going back to face to face yoga this evening as Wales lockdown is lifted, so excited to see actual people other than school people.’
She added to a friend: ‘Will be able to get back to the “new normal” this week, which will be way better than lockdown. Have a great week all.’
People queue outside Primark in the centre of Cardiff as the firebreak lockdown ends in Wales after over a fortnight closed
The eager shoppers wanted to take advantage of the new rules, which allow non-essential stores to open back up again
Cardiff was busier than it was during the firebreak, after the Welsh Government announced non-essential shops could open
Wales will follow a ‘basic set of national restrictions’ when it emerges from its 17-day lockdown, Mark Drakeford has revealed
Welsh Twitter users were overjoyed with the country coming out of lockdown and posted their celebrations online.
But 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.”
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.
The country’s stringent ‘firebreak’ ends tomorrow and will see shops, gyms, schools and places of worship reopen. Pictured: a deserted shopping centre in Newport
The number of coronavirus cases in Wales has started to plateau over the last four days
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.
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.’
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.
Wales firebreak was plunged into chaos when supermarkets cordoned off non-essential items
A woman sits on a bench in the town centre wearing a face mask in a quiet street in Newport this weekend
‘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.’
Wales has seen 5,224 coronavirus cases in the last week and 2,033 people in the country have died from the disease.
Figures from Public Health Wales show that coronavirus numbers have been starting to plateau for the last four days.
Mr Drakeford is hoping that the UK Government will stick to its plans of having all four nations meet to discuss a single approach to the Christmas period.
HAS THE FIREBREAK LOCKDOWN IN WALES WORKED?
Wales’ chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton said there were some ‘early signs of stability’ as the country comes out of its firebreak lockdown.
Official data shows the country is recording fewer Covid-19 cases each day than it was, backing up Dr Atherton’s claims on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Wales’ rolling average number of daily infections by specimen date peaked at 1,310.3 on October 27 — several days after the blanket policy was first introduced. It then dropped 9.2 per cent to 1,189.1 on November 1.
And statistics given to the Department of Health — which tracks the pandemic in all four of the home nations — show it will drop even further, barring any testing hold-ups in the past week.
Figures by specimen date are more reliable because they don’t take into account any day-to-day fluctuations in recordings. But they are always a week behind because of how long it can take for swab results to feed into the system.
But Dr Atherton admitted there would be a ‘lag’ for some of the statistics, meaning it would take longer for the benefits of the fire-breaker to trickle into the death toll and hospitalisations. It can take infected patients several weeks to fall severely ill.
Fatality figures show Wales recorded 14 deaths each day, on average, over the week ending November 3. This was down only slightly on the 16.7 recorded for the seven-day spell that finished Oct 29.
But when looking at deaths by the date they were recorded instead of occurred, the country has yet to see any noticeable downturn.
Hospital admissions have also yet to shrink. Instead, they have stayed above 85 each day since October 11. But because of the illness lag, it may take longer to notice any benefits for Welsh NHS facilities.
Regional figures also show infection rates, the number of new cases diagnosed per week for every 100,000 people, have dropped in all but two parts of Wales over the most recent five days — Powys and Ceredigion.
Merthyr Tydfil’s rate plunged from 755.9 in the week ending November 1 to 523.8 five days later. Cardiff and Swansea also saw outbreaks shrink.
However, test positivity rates across all 22 authorities remains above the 5 per cent threshold, which the World Health Organization says indicates whether an epidemic is under control or not.
And the rates — which determine whether a drop in new cases is genuine or down to a lack of tests — have actually risen in five areas over the same time-frame, including Powys and Ceredigion, as well as Monmouthshire, Gwynedd and Bridgend.
Separate measures of the outbreak — including results of a government surveillance scheme — also suggest the fire breaker has helped.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which randomly tests thousands of people for Covid-19, estimated 26,100 people had the disease during the week that ended October 31.
This was up just 1,000 on the figure the week before, marking a much slower speed of growth than before the drastic national policies were introduced.