temporarily closed sign on shop door

The Welsh government has diverged from the UK government’s approach to COVID measures by confirming that a national, temporary “firebreak” lockdown will be imposed from Friday 23 October until Monday 9 November.

Announced by Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford, the two-week “firebreak” will come into force to enable the nation’s NHS to catch its breath before heading into a difficult winter, said the devolved government.

The decision marks a significant divergence from the rest of the UK.

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The First Minister said: “This is the moment to come together; to play our part in a common endeavour to protect the NHS and save lives. This will not be easy, but we will do it together.”

The fire-break will start at 6pm on 23 October and will apply to everyone living in Wales, replacing the local restrictions which 2.3 million of Wales’ population are under.

Under the firebreak lockdown, all residents will be required to stay at home and work from home wherever possible, while those in critical jobs and those for whom working from home is not an option will be allowed to out.

Importantly, guidance released today from the Welsh administration confirmed that “all leisure and non-essential retail will be closed. This includes clothes shops, furniture shops and car dealerships among many others.”

It also verified that “shops allowed to remain open include supermarkets and other food retailers, pharmacies, banks and post offices. However, wherever possible people should avoid unnecessary visits to these, and use alternative approaches such as online services and deliveries.”

While mobility retailers were not specifically mentioned, the Welsh government has confirmed that a full list of types of business required to close will soon be available.

To help companies forced to close during the firebreak, the Welsh government has promised to provide a package of almost £300 million to support businesses, which run alongside the wage-support schemes available from the UK government.

As part of the new £300 million support fund, all businesses forced to close and covered by the small business rates relief will receive a £1,000 payment.

Small and medium-sized retail businesses, however, will receive a one-off payment of up to £5,000.

There will also be additional discretionary grants and support for smaller businesses, which are struggling, said the government.

Notably, the lockdown guidance published by the government has said that building, repair and maintenance work can still be carried out in homes, giving clarity to companies that install home adaptations.

“Work carried out inside other people’s homes can only take place if it is urgent or to repair a fault which poses a direct risk to people’s safety – for example, emergency plumbing or carry out an adaptation to allow that household to remain in their property, or the property is vacant.  Work should not be carried out at someone else’s house if the worker or any member of the household is self-isolating or showing COVID-19 symptoms, however mild,” stated the guidance.

“Like other businesses, people working in someone else’s home must take all reasonable measures to ensure to mitigate the risk of coronavirus spreading when working in other people’s households.”

Click here to see THIIS’ Deep Dive into COVID Secure guidance to working in people’s homes from the spring.

“If attendance is unavoidable (because of an urgent or emergency situation), additional precautions should be taken to keep workers and householders completely separate from each other,” it continues.

“In these cases, Public Health Wales can provide advice to tradespeople and households.”

Unlike the first lockdown, however, the First Minister maintained that childcare would remain open during the firebreak, with primary and special schools to reopen as normal after half-term.

For children in secondary schools, they will remain home for the extra week of the firebreak, stated Drakeford.

“Secondary schools will reopen after the half-term for children in years 7 and 8 and for those taking exams. Other pupils will continue their learning from home for an extra week,” he said.

Following the announcement of the circuit break lockdown, the First Minister has written to the Chancellor to ask him to give Welsh businesses early access to the new expanded Job Support Scheme from Friday.

The Welsh Government has offered to pay the extra costs to the UK government scheme to ensure businesses can retain staff.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “It is with a heavy heart that I once again ask everyone to stay at home and businesses to shut.

“We are all tired of coronavirus and the many rules and regulations we all have to live with. We all want to see an end to this pandemic and our lives returned to us. Unfortunately, we do not yet have a vaccine, which will allow us to do that.

“This fire-break is our best chance of regaining control of the virus and avoiding a much-longer – and damaging – national lockdown. We have a small window of opportunity to act.

“To be successful, we need everyone’s help. Wales has shown throughout this pandemic that we can come together and take the actions to keep our families and our communities safe.

“We must come together once again to stay ahead of this virus and to save lives.”

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