Wales facing ‘long difficult haul’ and restrictions beyond current lockdown, First Minister warns

People in Wales face having their movements restricted “beyond” the current three-week lockdown, the First Minister has said.

Mark Drakeford admitted the potential restrictions for people and businesses would be “a long haul and a difficult haul”, but said a gradual reduction in measures would come if current controls lower the number of infections.

On Monday Mr Drakeford held the Welsh Government’s first live televised coronavirus briefing in Cardiff, before it was announced a further 14 people had died in Wales from Covid-19.

The First Minister said he agreed with England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries, that the UK would see social distancing measures for longer than the current three-week lockdown.

He said: “I think there’s no doubt at all that we are facing restrictions beyond the three weeks of the immediate period.

“I think there will be a gradual reduction in those restrictions over a period of time if what we’ve done already allows us to lower the peak of the current outbreak.

“We may need significant restrictions for longer than the original three weeks, and beyond that period there will be times where we don’t just go from everything being restricted to nothing being restricted, and that’s going to be a long haul and a difficult haul for individuals and businesses.”

Mr Drakeford announced a £500 million crisis fund would be made available to businesses in Wales to help them survive the pandemic, part of a £1.1 billion stimulus package to be injected into the Welsh economy.

He said £100 million would be set aside for loans between £5,000 and £250,000 at a “minimal level” of interest for companies experiencing cashflow problems because of the pandemic.

A £400 million emergency pot will provide grants up to £10,000 for micro businesses, £100,000 for small and medium-sized businesses, and support for larger Welsh-headquartered companies of “critical social or economic importance to Wales”.

Mr Drakeford said: “We made a commitment we would fill the gaps and support business through this incredibly difficult time, and this package helps us to do just that.”

Public Health Wales announced on Monday that the number of people who have died in Wales after contracting coronavirus is 62 following 14 new deaths, with 210 new cases taking the confirmed total to 1,451.

The worst-hit area of Wales, the Aneurin Bevan health board area, saw an increase of 51 cases to make a total of 565, and Mr Drakeford admitted it could partly be explained by an early case involving a health worker who passed it to a group of colleagues.

Mr Drakeford said: “At the beginning, it is true that a health worker who contracted the virus, it led to a group of people in the health service in Aneurin Bevan health board getting the virus as well.

“That’s part of the story of the Gwent outbreak, but by no means now all of it.”

The First Minister said “vigorous” testing due to the infected health worker, as well as population density, and evidence the disease was moving from east to west across the UK, also explained the high numbers of confirmed cases in Gwent.

Mr Drakeford also said just over 1,000 tests a day were being carried out in Wales, with the intention to increase the number to “many more thousands” during April to help keep track of community spreading.

He also appealed to the the UK Government to increase the amount of money being given to Wales to fight the outbreak, saying the current share was based on population size and not the need of Wales’s “older and sicker population”.

He added: “Our history of coal mining and heavy industry means we have people with breathing problems that the coronavirus is particularly likely to affect.

“Money should come into Wales on need, not simply on population share. That’s a conversation we go on having with the UK Government.”

Mr Drakeford ended his briefing by thanking the armed forces for working with the Welsh Government and health boards with logistics and planning as the country braces for a peak in infections in the coming weeks.

He said Army representatives had been at the Principality Stadium on Monday to begin detailed planning for hospital beds at the stadium, after the Cardiff and Vale health board was given permission to use it as a temporary field hospital with capacity for up to 2,000 beds.

Elsewhere it was announced that the National Eisteddfod, one of the largest music and poetry festivals in Europe due to be held in Ceredigion in August, had been postponed until next year.

Spokesman Ashok Ahir said: “Naturally, our supporters will be disappointed, but I am sure everyone will agree that this is the right and sensible decision for us to take.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Tom Martin / Welsh Government / Crown Copyright / PA Wire.