Welsh First Minister says lack of English travel ban ‘undermines’ Covid-19 fight

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17:59pm, Tue 13 Oct 2020
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Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has written to Boris Johnson to claim his decision not to impose travel restrictions for English lockdown areas is “undermining” Wales’ ability to control the spread of coronavirus.

The letter has been described by Mr Drakeford as a last-ditch attempt to get the Prime Minister to restrict people living under lockdown in England from being able to travel to areas of Wales where levels of the virus are low.

The leader of the Welsh Labour Government has previously warned Wales will use its own powers to restrict entry into the country if Westminster fails to act.

The UK Government have so far only offered voluntary travel guidance and has stopped short of issuing travel bans to areas of England under restrictions, whereas in Wales people living under lockdown can only leave their areas for essential travel such as to go to work.

In his letter sent to Mr Johnson on Tuesday, Mr Drakeford said he had provided scientific evidence to back his calls for the restrictions, which he said would also be shared with the first ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Mr Drakeford wrote: “I would urge you to consider introducing travel restrictions through regulations in England, to prevent the virus moving from high-prevalence areas to low-prevalence communities, to support our collective response to the virus.

“The voluntary guidance approach has proved ineffective and firmer action is urgently required to keep the virus under control.”

The First Minister goes on to say: “Much of Wales is now under local restriction measures and people living in those areas are prohibited from travelling outside their county boundary without a reasonable excuse.

“This measure is designed to prevent the spread of infection within Wales and to other areas of the UK.

“Our efforts are being undermined by travellers from high-prevalence areas in other parts of the UK travelling to Wales.”

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Mr Drakeford said he had been clear the issue was “not a matter of the border between Wales and England”, but of preventing the circulation of the virus from high-prevalence to low-prevalence areas of the UK.

He adds: “If you fail to introduce the sort of measures we have already introduced in Wales, it will make this an issue which will undermine rather than support the successful operation of the border region.”

At Tuesday’s Welsh Parliament plenary, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price called on the UK Government to close what he described as a “travel loophole”.

Addressing the First Minister, Mr Price said: “Waiting for BoJo is proving a pretty futile exercise.

“So, rather than writing another unanswered letter or waiting for a four-nation Cobra, why not act independently now in the interests of the people of Wales?”

The Welsh Conservatives’ shadow health minister, Andrew RT Davies, said previous evidence from the UK Government’s Sage committee showed restricted travel between UK nations had a “low impact” on transmissions.

Referring to Mr Drakeford, Mr Davies tweeted: “He’s making it up as he goes along.”

On Monday, Mr Drakeford said he had expressed “deep disappointment” after Mr Johnson refused his request for a travel ban at that day’s Cobra meeting, later saying he would give the Prime Minister “one final opportunity to do the right thing” before Wales used its own powers to ban entry into the country.

On Tuesday morning, in response to his comments, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “There are no physical borders between Wales and England.

“What we have done is publish guidance which is very clear that people from very high risk areas such as Merseyside should avoid travelling in or out of the area.

“We have also made it very clear to the public that they should follow any local guidance which is issued by devolved administrations.”

There are currently tighter restrictions in 17 areas of Wales, including Cardiff, Swansea and parts of North Wales, affecting more than 2.3 million people.

Bangor, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Conwy and Wrexham in North Wales remain under lockdown, along with Caerphilly county borough, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport, Blaenau Gwent, Cardiff, Swansea, the town of Llanelli, Neath Port Talbot, the Vale of Glamorgan and Torfaen, all in south Wales.

On Tuesday, there was a further 764 reported cases of Covid-19 in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 31,370.

Public Health Wales said five further deaths had been reported, with the total number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic rising to 1,678.

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