Wales has strong ties and links with people from around the world – the strongest of which are on our doorstep. As we once again see coronavirus cases rise, we must sadly ask some people not to come to Wales at this time.
I want to be clear: these regulations do not create a new border between Wales and the rest of the UK where there was none before. This is not a ban on people entering Wales. These are not the actions of some nationalist Welsh government asserting independence from the UK. And this is not the result of any sort of anti-English sentiment.
These regulations are an inevitable consequence of the prime minister’s refusal to act to protect people in England and other parts of the UK from coronavirus.
In Wales we took early action to prevent coronavirus spreading from areas where the virus is high to areas where it is low. Large parts of Wales are under local restrictions because the virus is spreading quickly – we take action when the rate rises above 50 cases per 100,000 people. People living in these parts are not able to travel beyond their local health protection zone – usually their county boundary – without a reasonable excuse, such as for work or education.
These local rules, including travel restrictions, have helped prevent the virus being exported to other parts of the country; but people have been able to travel to Wales, including from other hotspot areas in the UK.
For many weeks I have been asking the prime minister to follow our lead and introduce mandatory travel restrictions in the areas of England where infection rates are high. I have asked him to add travel to the list of local lockdown measures, because we know that coronavirus is a sociable disease. Wherever people go, the virus likes to go too; wherever people mingle and congregate, so does the virus.
Video: Whistleblowers warn of health and safety breaches at UK coronavirus mega-lab (The Independent)
Gallery: Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak around the world (Photo Services)
Instead the prime minister chose to introduce unenforceable advisory guidance – which will not prevent coronavirus travelling from areas with the highest prevalence to areas with lower rates, whether that’s in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The prime minister’s failure to act meant I had little choice but to act for Wales. And I will do everything I can to keep people in Wales safe.
The prime minister’s failure to act does more than expose people to coronavirus, putting people’s health at risk. His continued refusal to recognise the fears and anxieties of people from different parts of the country further undermines the case for the UK in many people’s eyes.
Wales has real expertise in the genomic analysis of the virus that causes Covid-19. Thanks to the work of our specialists in sequencing more than 7,500 copies of the viral genome – part of a UK-wide consortium that has sequenced more than 50,000 copies since the start of the pandemic – we are learning how to target interventions where they will have the greatest effect on the virus.
A vechile travels past a ‘Welcome to Wales’ sign on the Wales/England border near Hereford in Herefordshire, England on October 15, 2020, following an announcement that people living in COVID-19 hotspots in England, will be banned from travelling into Wales. – Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford, announced Wednesday that Welsh police forces will carry out extra patrols on main roads to enforce a planned travel ban to prevent people entering Wales from Covid hotspots in the UK. (Photo by Geoff Caddick / AFP) (Photo by GEOFF CADDICK/AFP via Getty Images)
The genomics data makes clear that the way the virus currently circulates in Wales is different to how it did at the start of the pandemic, in March and April. The data also suggests that since lockdown rules were relaxed, in the summer, we have seen an increase in cases – which may partly be driven by people coming from other parts of the UK and abroad as a result of summer holidays.
Introducing restrictions on people’s freedoms is never an easy thing to do. Over the course of this pandemic, the Welsh government has always acted to protect people’s health, following the medical and scientific evidence we have received. Doing this has meant intervening in people’s lives in a way that we would have thought unimaginable at the start of the year.
Each time we have had to introduce new restrictions – and these latest travel restrictions will be no different – we have done so carefully, making sure they are proportionate to the risk to health and are in place for the shortest possible time.
These are difficult decisions to make, and would have been better taken forward on a UK-wide basis. But our ability to work together collaboratively as four nations to respond to this all-consuming crisis has been hampered by the vacancy at the heart of the UK government.
• Mark Drakeford is the First Minister of Wales
Stay alert to stop coronavirus spreading – here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don’t go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn’t available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.