Still ‘job of work’ to be done to avoid future lockdowns in Wales – Mark Drakeford

The First Minister of Wales has said he cannot give assurances that the country has seen its last lockdown, as it became the first UK nation to lift the most recent coronavirus restrictions.

The country’s “stay local” requirement was lifted on Saturday, meaning there are no travel restrictions within Wales for the first time since it entered lockdown on December 20.

People in Wales are now allowed to stay in self-contained holiday accommodation, and six people from two different households can meet and exercise outdoors.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said he hopes people will be able to enjoy outdoor hospitality by the end of next month, although indoor meetings are unlikely to be permitted until May.

Asked whether this is the last lockdown, Mr Drakeford told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “I’m afraid I don’t think anybody responsible in my position will be able to do that any time soon.

“There’s a job of work that still needs to be done in making sure that coronavirus is genuinely in the rear view mirror.”

Mr Drakeford said on Thursday he will outline the lifting of coronavirus restrictions for the whole of April and into May, which he said should give businesses some certainty around reopening.

But he warned he is “not prepared to give people false assurances too far into the future”, adding: “This is an inherently uncertain time, we study the figures in Wales every single day.”

An interim “all-Wales travel area” in place until April 12 means people will be unable to travel in or out of the country for at least another two weeks, unless for a reasonable excuse such as for work.

The country has already reopened hairdressers and allowed most school pupils to resume face-to-face teaching, with all pupils and college students expected to return to classrooms after the Easter break.

Garden centres have also reopened, with the rest of non-essential retail and close contact services expected to reopen from April 12.

On the issue of vaccine passports, Mr Drakeford said he is prepared to consider coronavirus certificates on a “four-nation basis” but warned they must be “fair and reliable”.

“I think there are definitely prizes to be won through domestic vaccine certification, but there are very big practical and ethical challenges to face as well,” he said.

“What about those who can’t be vaccinated because their health conditions don’t allow that to happen?

“If it’s a self-certification system, then what reliance can we put on the fact that somebody produces a certificate?”

On Sunday, Public Health Wales reported no further deaths, with the total in the country since the start of the pandemic at 5,505.

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases have gone up by 171, bringing the country’s confirmed total to 209,066.

A total of 1,387,583 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have now been given in the country, along with 412,663 second doses.

While the people of Wales will enjoy the relaxation of rules this week as the weather is set to become warmer and sunnier, Mr Drakeford warned that some measures are likely to still be in place at the end of the year, such as face masks, hand-washing and social distancing.

He defended the number of lockdowns imposed in Wales, saying the country had gone into them “earlier and deeper”.

“The idea that, with one bound, we are free and coronavirus is something that is over, that’s not my message to people here in Wales,” he said.

On what he would have done differently, he said he would have taken some actions “earlier than we did”, adding: “I think that would have been true across the UK.”

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