The tourism sector in Wales could start to reopen by Easter if cases keep falling, Mark Drakeford said today.
The First Minister struck the optimistic tone as he revealed that the nation has completed its vaccine rollout to the four most vulnerable groups.
The comments will increase pressure for Boris Johnson’s ‘roadmap’ on February 22 to spell out how the summer holiday season could be saved.
Ministers have been warning Britons not to book any foreign or domestic breaks yet, saying it is too early to be sure whether they will be possible.
At his daily briefing, Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government was speaking to the tourism and hospitality industries in Wales about ‘what might be possible’.
But he also warned that any reopening will depend on infection levels, the impact on the health service and the success of the vaccination programme.
The tourism sector in Wales could start to reopen by Easter if cases keep falling, Mark Drakeford said today
Location such as Tenby (pictured in 2019) are very popular with holidaymakers, who are critical for the economy in the area
Top scientific advisers yesterday warned there must be no more than 10,000 Britons infected on any given day — the equivalent of fewer than 1,000 daily cases — before Mr Johnson should start easing measures. To dip below the 1,000 mark, cases must drop by at least 15-fold as official data shows around 15,000 Britons are testing positive each day.
Cases and deaths continue to fall across the UK
Covid cases and deaths are continuing to plummet across Britain, official data revealed today as Number 10’s top scientists claimed the R rate has fallen below the crucial level of one and admitted they believe this could be the final lockdown.
Department of Health bosses declared another 15,144 coronavirus infections — down almost 21 per cent in a week, meaning 4million Britons have tested positive since the pandemic began. Another 758 fatalities were also added to the official toll — a drop of 25 per cent on last Friday’s toll.
And in yet another glimmer of hope that the UK could be freed from draconian restrictions soon, 14million people have now received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson — a NERVTAG adviser and Imperial College London epidemiologist whose grim modelling spooked ministers into the first shutdown last spring — claimed Britons could be allowed to meet friends in pubs and restaurants from May. He also revealed he believes this will be the ‘final lockdown’.
And one of the nation’s most prominent SAGE experts — who wished to remain anonymous — today said he hopes the lockdown will be the last of its kind because the mammoth vaccination drive should keep coronavirus under control. But he admitted the route back to normality will be slow and isn’t just a case of pressing a button.
No10’s advisory panel today revealed the R rate — the average number of people each Covid patients passes the disease to — in the UK has dropped to between 0.7-0.9. Last week it warned the figure could be as high as one. In another sign that the second wave is firmly in retreat, SAGE claimed the number of new infections is halving every fortnight.
Figures released by Public Health Wales show the incidence rate of coronavirus in the country, which was above 650 cases per 100,000 people before Christmas, has dropped to 102 cases per 100,000 people.
The test positivity rate – another key marker – has also fallen to 8.7 per cent, while the number of people in hospital is also beginning to reduce.
Mr Drakeford said: ‘If that is the path that we are on, then a pattern in Wales as we move towards the spring and Easter will be one in which we will be able to slowly and cautiously lift the restrictions that are currently in place.
‘That will include the tourism industry and it’ll include those aspects of family life which are denied to us all at the moment, but that is a path that depends upon continued success.
‘We’ve learnt so often over the last 12 months that coronavirus continues to have very unpleasant surprises up its sleeve. We’re by no means guaranteed to have a smooth passage into the future.’
Lockdown measures in Wales, which have been in place since December 20, are formally reviewed every three weeks. The next review will take place by February 19.
Under the restrictions, all non-essential shops, hospitality businesses, visitor attractions, events and holiday accommodation are closed.
Mr Drakeford said any opening of the tourism industry would have to be careful, cautious and reflect the public health context at the time.
When asked what he would say to people booking a holiday in Wales, Mr Drakeford replied: ‘They should do it knowing the uncertain world we are living in. There are no guarantees in this.
‘When we reopened tourism last year, we didn’t go from nothing to everything in one go.
‘Our first steps were to reopen self-contained accommodation, where people had all their own facilities and that self-contained accommodation was occupied by people in your own family group.
‘I hear everything that the tourism industry says to us in Wales and want to recognise how important the Easter period is to them.
‘I’m trying to give an indication today that if everything continues to improve, we will do what we can to respond to their wish to be able to resume trading again over the Easter period.’
Mr Drakeford said he would not predict what life would be like in Wales in years to come as it was ‘difficult enough’ to do so for the next three weeks.
‘What I would like us to be able to get back to in Wales, and more quickly than we were able to last year, is the way things were last summer,’ he told the press conference.
‘Last summer, we were still social distancing, we were still being asked to wear masks on public transport and in crowded places but we were able to travel, restaurants were open, people could go on holiday.
The comments will increase pressure for Boris Johnson (pictured this week) to spell out how the summer holiday season could be saved
‘Coronavirus is going to be with us for months to come. Even when it is in the rearview mirror, we will need to go on being careful about the way we live our lives.’
Mr Drakeford said he believed people would notice a ‘significant’ difference in their lives if Wales was able to return to the level of restrictions seen in July and August of 2020.
Scientists in Wales are concerned about how the Kent variant would respond if restrictions are eased, given it is more transmissible than the original version.
‘We don’t know how this new variant will react, whether even a small uptick in the number of infections might accelerate away from us even more quickly than would have been the case last year,’ Mr Drakeford said.
‘That’s why they urge caution on us.’
The return of foundation phase school pupils in Wales, due to begin from February 22, will be monitored closely to see whether the new variant gives cause for concern, he added.
He insisted the Welsh Government would not ‘throw away’ the efforts made by people since lockdown measures were imposed in December.
‘We will look to restore freedoms in a way that continues to secure our safety against coronavirus and its latest developments,’ Mr Drakeford said.