Wales announces two-week lockdown to stop coronavirus surge

Everyone will be required to stay at home with only critical workers expected to go to their workplaces. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Wales will impose a full "firebreak" lockdown for two weeks from Friday (Oct 23) to try to reduce a soaring number of new coronavirus cases, First Minister Mark Drakeford said on Monday (Oct 19).

Under the new rules, everyone will be required to stay at home with only critical workers expected to go to their workplaces.

No gatherings with people from other households will be allowed, except for adults living alone and single parents.

Cases have surged across Wales over recent weeks despite restrictions having been tightened in various locations, with 1,711 deaths of those who have tested positive for the virus in total.

"A firebreak period is our best chance of regaining control of the virus and avoiding a much longer and more damaging national lockdown," Mr Drakeford said as he announced the new restrictions.

"Unless we act, the NHS will not be able to look after the increasing number that are falling ill," he added, referring to the state-run health service.

The Welsh leader said the move, which will come into force at 6pm local time on Friday, was a "difficult decision".

"This... is the shortest we can make it," he added of its two-week duration.

Schools will be shut next week for a statutory holiday, with only primary schools, special-needs schools and younger secondary school year groups returning for in-person lessons during the second week of the lockdown.

All non-essential hospitality establishments will close, with £300 million (S$529 million) allocated to an "economic resilience fund" to help struggling businesses.

"There are no easy choices in front of us as the virus spreads rapidly," Mr Drakeford said.

"If we do not act now it will continue to accelerate," he added, warning that critical care units were already full.

But the Welsh leader insisted that the "time-limited firebreak" would come to an end on Nov 9, whatever the case figures at that time.

The devolved governments of Britain are responsible for deciding local rules to combat the virus, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson facing some calls to impose similar measures for England.

Northern Ireland announced on Friday it would shut down pubs and restaurants for a month and extended the school holidays, while pubs and other licensed premises in central Scotland shut entirely earlier this month for 16 days.

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