People flood shops and hairdressers as Wales' firebreak lockdown ends

There have been huge queues outside shops and hairdressers in Wales after the country’s firebreak lockdown has come to an end.

After 17 days without haircuts or ‘non-essential’ items – which saw the controversial cordoning off of supermarket aisles – some people have been desperate to get back to more normal life.

Despite a mad rush, particularly in Cardiff’s city centre, first minister Mark Drakeford said the return of retail was being ‘well managed’.

‘The reports that I’ve had are that it’s being well managed, that these are retail outlets that have made a big effort to make sure that queues are managed, that people coming in and out of shops are properly controlled and that people themselves are doing all the things they can do in observing social distancing and being respectful of other people,’ he said.

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‘Our chief medical officer often says that it’s what people do when they get somewhere, rather than the fact that they’re going shopping by itself, that is not necessarily a difficulty.

‘It’s how people behave when they make those choices and provided people are behaving in a way that does not put themselves and others at risk, then I think the fact that people want to do some things today that they’ve not been able to do for over two weeks wouldn’t be that surprising to anyone.’

New national restrictions have been introduced in Wales, where groups of up to four people can now meet up in cafes, pubs and restaurants while shops, gyms, hairdressers and places of worship can also reopen.

Supermarkets can again sell non-essential items while people will only be allowed to meet up inside homes with members of one other household if they have joined a ‘bubble’.

A 10pm curfew on alcohol sales will return, though drinkers will be required to prove their home address following concerns English people could flout their lockdown rules and travel to Wales for a drink.

It comes after Mr Drakeford says there are ‘early positive signs’ that the firebreak has curbed the spread of coronavirus.

He told Monday’s Welsh Government press briefing levels of Covid-19 across Wales have now dropped from 250 cases per 100,000 people to just under 220 cases – and stressed it was ‘vital’ people continued to work from home.

‘We won’t know the full impact for a couple of weeks yet but there are some tentative early positive signs, and those give us some hope,’ he said.

‘Mobility data shows large increases in people staying at home during the firebreak – back to the levels last seen in May.

‘It is vital that working from home as much as possible continues beyond today.’

Mr Drakeford said rates in Merthyr Tydfil, which was the worst-hit area of the UK last week with 741 cases per 100,000 people, had now fallen to around 520.

He added: ‘This is still too high, but an important and encouraging fall.’

But the number of people being admitted to hospital is continuing to rise, with more than 1,400 cases in Welsh hospitals, which is higher than during the April peak of the virus.

Mr Drakeford said high numbers of deaths would continue ‘until we get coronavirus under control’.

Wales’ new national measures will be reviewed in a fortnight. He stressed the exit from the firebreak needs to be ‘careful and cautious so that we can maximise its impact.’

Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government has not ‘ruled out’ taking targeted local action ‘if necessary’ – calling the idea of mass town-testing like in Liverpool ‘attractive’.

‘We will look to see ways in which we can learn from that experience and put it to work in Wales,’ he added.

Public Health Wales reported a further 931 cases of coronavirus today, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 60,912.

Another eight deaths were also reported, taking the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 2,041.

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