The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 (‘the Regulations’), impose restrictions on gatherings, the movement of people, and the operation of businesses, including closures, in Wales. They impose requirements on businesses that are open to take reasonable measures to ensure physical distancing between people. This has been done to help protect everyone from the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
Under regulation 3(2) Welsh Ministers are required to review the need for the requirements and restrictions in the Regulations every 21 days. The third review was due by 28 May.
We carried out this review using the latest evidence from the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and the advice of the Chief Medical Officer for Wales (CMO). While we have passed the first peak of infection and rates continue to fall, this is very gradual and it is still too early for significant lifting of requirements or restrictions where the risks of increasing rates of transmission are high. Advice from SAGE and the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Cell (TAC) is that modifications to lockdown measures can have a cumulative effect, and should therefore be incremental, and carefully monitored. This is what we intend to do.
The reproduction rate of the virus (R) continues to fall. It is likely to be below the rate of 1, above which we would see exponential growth. Our NHS has coped well and is continuing to build capacity and progressively resume normal health services. Plans are in place to build-up our Test, Trace and Protect (TTP) capability, and to ensure the continued availability of PPE. These conditions, taken together, will allow us to continue to take incremental steps over the coming weeks and months to ease restrictions when it is safe to do so.
The improving situation and latest evidence on transmission of the virus has meant we have been able to consider some adjustments to the Regulations to come into force on Monday. The areas in which changes can be made most safely are those that take place outdoors. SAGE advises that the risk of infection is substantially diminished outdoors, particularly when well-ventilated and in sunshine. However a lower risk does not mean no risk, and it essential that physical distancing of 2m is maintained and large groups do not congregate.
I am acutely aware of the difficulties faced by the separation of families and friends as a result of the lockdown and the harms caused by feelings of isolation and the impacts on the wellbeing and mental health of us all. With the limited room for manoeuvre we have, I have therefore prioritised allowing people to meet outdoors in this review, where there is a low risk of infection if 2m physical distancing is maintained.
Amendments will be brought forward to the Regulations to allow members of two separate households to meet outdoors at any one time. This will include meeting in private outdoor spaces such as gardens, but I want to be clear this comes with a higher risk of infection and we will provide guidance on precautions that can be taken to minimise these risks.