Wales will remain in full lockdown for another three weeks, it has been confirmed.
The current measures will be in force until at least next month, First Minister Mark Drakeford announced on Thursday.
The lockdown measures bar all non-essential travel with people only allowed to leave their home to buy basic supplies, exercise once a day, for any medical need or to help care for someone, or to work if this cannot be done at home.
The stringent measures, which are punishable with fines if they are breached, will continue for another three weeks. They were first introduced last month and legally the measures must be reviewed at least every three weeks.
In a statement released on Thursday after attending a Cobra meeting along with the First Ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland Mr Drakeford said: “We each confirmed our decisions that the current restrictions on movement, to protect the NHS and so to save lives, should continue for another three weeks. This is based on expert scientific analysis on the latest data on the coronavirus outbreak right across the UK.
“I know the last three weeks have been very difficult for a lot of people and I wanted to thank everyone in Wales for the way in which each us has dealt with very challenging circumstances. And while we have seen some positive signs in the data it’s still too early to change course in dealing with this deadly virus.
“Many more lives are still at stake and too many families have already lost loved ones.”
He said the decision to extend the lockdown had “not been taken lightly”, adding: “I am clear that we cannot risk throwing away all the progress we have made over the last few weeks by lifting those restrictions too soon.”
A YouGov poll of 3,430 adults conducted and published on Thursday found 67% of people surveyed strongly supported a continuation of the lockdown, with a further 24% saying they ‘somewhat’ supported an extension. Only 3% said they would ‘somewhat oppose’ such a move while 2% said they strongly opposed the possibility.
The announcement that the lockdown will remain in force in Wales comes a day after Northern Ireland’s First Minister confirmed the same measures would stay in place there until May 9.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab subsequently confirmed the lockdown was also being extended elsewhere in the UK. He said we were at a “delicate and dangerous” stage in dealing with the pandemic, emphasising the prospect of a second peak in cases. “We need to be patient a while longer,” he said.
“Any change to our social distancing measures now would risk a significant increase in the spread of the virus.” Relaxing rules could cause a “second peak” which would risk increasing deaths “substantially”, he warned.
“It would undo the progress we have made to date and as a result would require an even longer period of the more restrictive social distancing measures,” said Mr Raab.
He added: “There are indications that the measures we have put in place have been successful in slowing down the spread of this virus. But Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) also say that is a mixed and inconsistent picture and, in some settings, infections are still likely to be increasing.”
The advice was that relaxing any of the measures would risk damage to public health and the economy, he said. “Based on this advice, which we have very carefully considered, the Government has decided that the current measures must remain in place for at least the next three weeks.”
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The rate of infection – the R0 value – was “almost certainly below one in the community”, meaning infected people were passing the disease on to fewer than one other person on average.
“But overall we still don’t have the infection rate down as far as we need to,” he told the daily Downing Street news conference.
Mr Raab said the Government needed to be satisfied of five things before it would consider it safe to adjust any of the current measures.
- Protect the NHS’s ability to cope and be confident that the NHS is able to provide sufficient critical care across the UK
- See a sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates to be confident the UK is beyond the peak
- Reliable data from Sage showing rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board
- Confident that testing capacity and PPE are in hand with supply able to meet future demand
- Confident that any adjustments to the current measures would not risk a second peak in infections which would overwhelm the NHS
Mr Raab said the Government would look to adjust the measures to make them “as effective as possible in protecting public health whilst allowing some economic and social activity to resume” when officials are confident on the five points.
“But we will only do it when the evidence demonstrates that it is safe to do it. It could involve relaxing measures in some areas while strengthening measures in other areas.”
Asked if he could indicate how long the measures might last Mr Raab referred to the Prime Minister previously saying that it would take “three months to come through the peak” and that was “still the outline” the government was working to, with the restrictions to be reviewed at the end of the month.
“We can’t give a definitive timeframe,” he said, adding it would be “irresponsible” to do so but said there was “light at the end of the tunnel”.
The news comes on the same day it was confirmed the number of patients in UK hospitals to have died after testing positive for Covid-19 had hit 13,729 – an increase of 861. More than 103,000 people in the UK have tested positive.
In Wales another 32 deaths were announced on Thursday, bringing the total to 495, with more than 6,400 confirmed cases.
In a press conference earlier on Thursday Dr Andrew Goodall, chief executive for NHS Wales, said nearly half of all critical care beds in Wales were currently vacant, amid “encouraging signs” over the outbreak. He said there were 940 people with confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Wales’ hospitals at present and 395 suspected cases, making 1,335 in total.
But the Welsh Government has said it’s “too early to tell” whether the country has hit its peak.
Keep up to date with the latest reaction on the announcement in our live blog here.