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Covid: Wales to ban people coming from UK hotspots

Publishedduration28 minutes agoimage captionWales has different coronavirus rules to EnglandPeople in parts of the UK with high rates of Covid-19 will be banned from travelling to Wales under plans announced by Wales’ first minister.Mark Drakeford said he would go ahead if the prime minister did not impose travel restrictions in England.It is expected the ban…


image captionWales has different coronavirus rules to England

People in parts of the UK with high rates of Covid-19 will be banned from travelling to Wales under plans announced by Wales’ first minister.

Mark Drakeford said he would go ahead if the prime minister did not impose travel restrictions in England.

It is expected the ban will cover all of Northern Ireland, England’s tier two and three areas and the Scottish central belt.

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon said she fully supported Mr Drakeford’s move.

Earlier she said she would write to the prime minister seeking urgent talks over UK-wide travel restrictions and called for a “sensible agreement” between the four nations.

UK government ministers plan to write to the first minister to raise their concerns about the travel ban and some of the language being used, BBC Wales has been told.

Mr Drakeford had written twice in recent weeks to Boris Johnson asking for travel to be restricted in and out of areas with high levels of transmission in England.

The UK government has refused to do so, instead asking people in the Liverpool City Region to avoid non-essential travel.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionThe rules will come into force from Friday at 18:00 BST

Mr Drakeford said: “Evidence from public health professionals suggests coronavirus is moving from east to west across the UK and across Wales.

“As a general rule, it is concentrating in urban areas and then spreading to more sparsely populated areas as a result of people travelling.”

The rules will come into force on Friday at 18:00 BST.

Fully support @fmwales on this. These are public health decisions, and nothing to do with constitutional or political debates. @scotgov will also take whatever action we consider necessary to control COVID.

— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) October 14, 2020

How could it work?

Travel to and from the 17 local lockdown areas in Wales – covering most of the population – is already restricted.

Under the rules, people can already only travel to places like Cardiff or Swansea if you have a reasonable excuse like work or education.

But travel is possible between areas that are subject to restrictions in England and the parts of Wales not under the lockdown rules – mostly rural counties like Powys and Pembrokeshire.

The Welsh Government’s plans would effectively restrict travel to those places, and also cover anyone from a low Covid area of Wales travelling to high Covid areas elsewhere and then seeking to return to Wales.

And similar exemptions will apply to those that exist for Welsh local lockdown areas.

media captionPrime Minister Boris Johnson says people should use their common sense when travelling around the UK.

People ‘anxious and on the lookout’

The first minister said it was “absolutely possible” to enforce a ban.

Mr Drakeford told Times Radio “we did exactly this for many many weeks earlier this year”.

He warned anyone planning to “evade” a police officer “trying to prevent people from travelling onwards”.

“When they arrive in the far west of Wales, I’m afraid they will meet a local population that are fearful, that are anxious and are on the lookout for people who shouldn’t be in those areas.”

“So your difficulties aren’t over by evading the police, there’ll be other checks in the system.”

The Welsh Government says it will not impose these restrictions until 18:00 on Friday night, to give the prime minister another chance to intervene.

The odds of him doing so seem slender, given the hat-trick of refusals he has already supplied.

The delay also gives ministers a chance to untangle what is a more complex issue than is apparent at first sight.

‘More time for the prime minister’

Mr Drakeford told the Welsh Parliament that he had written again to Boris Johnson.

“That gives more time for the prime minister, the UK government, to do the things that we have asked him to do, to do the same thing for people who live in England as we have done for people who live in Wales.”

“We’ve already heard from the first minister in Scotland, and she is eager to support what we’re trying to do here.

“Now is the time for the prime minister to do the same thing.

“If he isn’t willing to do so then the timetable is for us to use the powers in Wales by the end of the week.”

The announcement was “long overdue”, according to Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price: “I’m pleased to see the Welsh Government finally taking this necessary course of action to protect the people of Wales.”

But Welsh Conservative health spokesman Andrew RT Davies said the Welsh Government’s “unhealthy obsession” with “‘banning the English’ flies in the face of all the evidence”.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionMark Drakeford, pictured at an earlier briefing, wanted the UK government to impose their own restrictions

Health Minister Vaughan Gething told BBC Wales everyone was being asked to behave responsibly – “Welsh citizens as well”.

“We’ve already seen infection events in Gwynedd from travel to Liverpool so we know it’s a risk, and the risk goes in both directions.”

The prime minister’s spokesman rejected Mr Drakeford’s latest call for restrictions on Tuesday, after he had threatened to impose travel rules.

“There are no physical borders between Wales and England,” the spokesman said.

Earlier in October Boris Johnson said he did not want to impose travel restrictions within the UK generally.

“We are all one country, people should exercise their common sense,” he told BBC Wales.

Mr Drakeford said the UK government’s action in England was “inadequate” after a Cobra meeting with the prime minister on Monday.

There was sympathy for the Welsh Government’s decision from the Conservative MP for Lichfield Michael Fabricant.

“This move is understandable,” he tweeted, adding: “But talk by a minority of Welsh nationalists of ‘stopping the English at the border’ creates tensions and damages tourism in Gwynedd and elsewhere in Wales.”

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Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus.