Some semblance of normal life will resume in Wales after the first minister, Mark Drakeford, announced a change from the “stay home” restrictions to more lenient “stay local” requirements.
From Saturday, four people from two households will be able to meet outdoors to socialise, including in gardens. Outdoor sports facilities including basketball courts, tennis courts and golf courses can reopen, and indoor care home visits will restart for single designated visitors. The relaxation of rules will allow people from rural areas to travel greater distances than those who live in urban towns and cities.
Hairdressers and barbers can reopen for appointments from Monday, the same day that all primary school pupils and those in qualification years can return to schools.
Drakeford was accused of a U-turn, however, after he announced that non-essential retail would remain closed until 12 April. The Welsh government had earlier suggested in a preview of the announcement that such retailers would start to reopen gradually from 22 March, the same date as restrictions would be lifted on items that could be sold in shops that are currently open.
Businesses said the Welsh government had left them with “the impression of being marched to the top of the hill, only to be asked to walk back down again”, while the Welsh Conservatives claimed the move was a “U-turn” and Plaid Cymru accused Drakeford of offering “false hope”.
Speaking on Friday afternoon, Drakeford defended the plans. “It is safer to do it with shops that are open already because they are already having to comply with all the strict standards that we strengthened in the regulations we passed in the Senedd in January,” he said.
“So we know that these are safe places to visit and I know that environmental health officers of local authorities will be visiting those settings in the coming week to make sure that they are ready to continue to operate in that way after 22 March.”
Drakeford said the retail sector had said it needed time to reopen safely, to return staff from furlough and to demonstrate shops could comply with standards in Wales.
He added: “I was also anxious about opening non-essential retail in the full sense here in Wales while no shops at all for non-essential purposes are open in England because that acts as a perverse incentive for people to travel across the border. That would be to break the rules in England and to break the rules in Wales but you don’t want to create the conditions in which it is more tempting for people to do that.”