Coronavirus: Welsh Government to announce lockdown plans on Friday

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The results of a review into Wales’ coronavirus lockdown will be announced by the Welsh Government on Friday.

First Minister Mark Drakeford is expected to outline how and when minor adjustments could be made.

It comes after Downing Street conceded Wales and the other UK nations may move differently on easing the restrictions.

The Welsh Government said more details will be announced in Friday’s press conference.

Mr Drakeford’s approach is expected to be cautious, with a focus on ensuring the R rate of transmission is not allowed to rise.

Welsh ministers met twice on Thursday to discuss their formal review of the Welsh stay-at-home regulations, which must be completed every three weeks.

Their announcement will be made two days ahead of when Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to set out the plan for England.

UK public health bodies want the R number to stay below one. It is possibly 0.8 in Wales, although the exact figure has still not been officially confirmed.

Welsh Government officials have asked people to stay at home over the Bank Holiday weekend.

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Tensions between the Welsh and UK governments over the lockdown regime emerged on Thursday, after speculation arose that restrictions could be eased in England.

A Guardian article claimed that Mark Drakeford had not been made aware of what the prime minister was planning to do in England.

The pair later took part in a joint call with the first ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Boris Johnson “reiterated his commitment to continuing” the UK-wide approach to tackling coronavirus “even if different parts of the UK begin to move at slightly different speeds”.

“Those decisions will be made based on the science for each nation,” the spokeswoman said, in a read-out of the discussion.

Lockdown laws in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are devolved, with the nations’ national governments in charge of the public health legislation.

So far the coronavirus lockdown has remained broadly similar across the UK, with some differences – Wales has a different fine structure, rules on two-metre social distancing at work and different rules on exercise.

The Welsh Government could choose to make further changes from England and elsewhere – but has said it prefers to take decisions alongside the other the four nations.

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Mark Drakeford is expected to announce further details at a press conference

Some UK newspapers suggested the rules on exercise in England could be relaxed and more people encouraged to return to work.

But ministers sought to play down the report – Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said they were not a reliable guide and the prime minister said the government would proceed with “maximum caution”.

The stories also prompted concern in the Welsh Government they did not make clear the Welsh lockdown rules were for Cardiff ministers to determine.

It issued a statement saying some of the reporting “is confusing and risks sending mixed messages to people across the UK”.

Divergence ‘needs to be backed by evidence’

In an interview with BBC Wales, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart speculated that the “UK government and Welsh Government are much closer aligned than perhaps it looks at the moment”.

Mr Hart said if there was a divergence “it would need to be really, obviously, supported by evidence”.

He said he was not sure “that evidence had been seen by either Mark Drakeford or I at this stage”.

The Welsh secretary added he thought the relaxation measures announced for England on Sunday would be “modest”.

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Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville-Roberts met the prime minister with other Westminster opposition party leaders on Thursday.

After the meeting she said if Mr Johnson’s “commitment to the four nations of the UK is to mean anything, the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish governments must agree to any changes to the current approach”.

She warned the prime minister to “resist the urge to move too quickly and put the health of the public first”.

Before the meeting a Plaid Cymru source suggested Welsh ministers did not seem to be ready for lockdown to be lifted.

Referring to an estimate in a Public Health Wales report of the number of tests a day that may be needed for tracking coronavirus, the source said: “The Labour Welsh Government isn’t even hitting a thousand tests daily, when 30,000 a day are needed according to the experts, and dozens of people are dying everyday in Wales.”

Analysis by Felicity Evans, BBC Wales Political Editor

The Welsh Labour Government is in a particularly difficult position over whether or not to diverge from England over easing the lockdown – and the primary reason for that is geography.

Scotland has a natural buffer zone – its border with England is very sparsely populated.

The Welsh/English border is a totally different story – lots of people live there and it is busy in normal times.

So imagine the problems with messaging and enforceability if there were different rules on travel or exercise in the two nations.

Downing Street seems to have accepted that some divergence around the UK is inevitable – we will find out which way the Welsh Government will go on Friday.

The Welsh Government press briefing will be on BBC One Wales and streamed live online at 12:30 BST on Friday. Mark Drakeford will deliver a first ministerial statement on BBC One Wales at 17:55 on Friday.

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