Wales is facing a “circuit breaker” lockdown of two or three weeks to stop hospitals being overwhelmed, as the country reaches what the government described as a “critical point”.
Ministers will spend the weekend coming to a final decision on their next steps, but the Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, said on Friday a “fire-break” or circuit breaker for the whole country was the option most actively being considered.
Drakeford said Covid had “well and truly woken up” in Wales and a circuit breaker would buy the government time to prepare for the difficult months ahead.
The first minister said if the restrictions were imposed, people would have to stay at home again. He said a “top priority” was to try to keep schools open, but hinted that partial shutdowns were being discussed.
Drakeford said the circuit breaker would give time for field hospitals to be prepared and to afford breathing space for test, trace and protect teams.
He said: “This would be a short, sharp shock to the virus that would turn back the clock, buying us more time and vital capacity.
“We face a very serious situation today in Wales. Unless we are able to get coronavirus back under control there is a real risk our NHS will be overwhelmed. If that happens even larger numbers of people will die.”
The R number in Wales is at 1.4 and there are more than 800 people in hospital with the virus – up from 500 last week. The first minister said the first patients had been moved to a field hospital in Bridgend.
Drakeford said there were “no easy options”, adding: “We will all have to act together to bring the levels down and keep them down.”
He acknowledged a circuit breaker would mean more financial hardship for many and said ministers were drawing up plans for a new business support package before taking a final decision.
The Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, called on the government to implement a circuit breaker without delay. “We need an urgent announcement from the first minister confirming a circuit breaker in Wales and outlining what exactly it will mean for people’s lives and livelihoods,” he said.
“Regrettably, we must pull the emergency cord without delay. The time this buys us must be used to build up a resilient, Welsh-based test, trace, isolate and support system, with adequate financial security for businesses and individuals.”
The Welsh Conservatives’ health spokesperson, Andrew RT Davies, has implored Drakeford to think again before imposing nationwide restrictions. He said: “The decision to lock down Wales once again will have devastating consequences, from an economic and public health perspective, and should be the last resort.”
From Friday evening people are banned from travelling into Wales from Covid hotspots in the rest of the UK.
Boris Johnson has finally replied to two letters from Drakeford calling on him to stop people travelling out of Covid-19 hotspots in England.
Drakeford said Johnson was refusing to follow Wales and ban travel from hotspots. But the first minister said the tone of Johnson’s letter was “reasonable” and the prime minister had reaffirmed “powerfully” his wish to work together with Wales.