Irish backstop –
The first minister of Wales on Friday gave the clearest insight yet into the limited easing of social distancing measures that could be brought in across the UK next week.
Officially extending lockdown for another three-week period, Mark Drakeford announced that from Monday exercise would be allowed more than once a day in Wales.
Garden centres will be allowed to open if they can impose two-metre social distancing rules, and councils will be asked to plan for the reopening of libraries and waste centres.
The stance is expected to be broadly consistent with measures in the rest of the UK, given the Welsh government has closely aligned its coronavirus policies with those of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Mr Drakeford said the changes would be introduced from Monday “so Wales moves in step with the rest of the UK”. He added: “I don’t believe you will see anywhere in the UK anything other than the most modest of immediate changes broadly of the sort I have proposed in Wales.”
The announcement comes ahead of a televised address by Boris Johnson on Sunday, in which the UK prime minister will map out a gradual exit from the lockdown and announce some limited easing of curbs that could take effect next week.
Mr Johnson is also expected to allow unlimited exercise outside people’s homes from Monday, and enable some businesses to ramp up operations where social distancing can be observed.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has made clear that she is also close to approving the easing of measures around the taking of exercise more than once a day, saying on Friday that she would give more detail of her plans over the weekend.
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But Ms Sturgeon ruled out other potential relaxation of the curbs, such as reopening garden centres, saying the exercise extension was the only thing she was looking at “in the immediate term”.
She said there was acceptance across the UK’s four nations that there might be differences in the pace of exit from lockdown, noting that the Covid-19 reproduction (or “R”) number still appeared to be higher in Scotland than elsewhere.
“If you are not being allowed to do something in Scotland . . . it is because we judge here that it is necessary to prevent you getting this virus,” she said.
Warning that it was “too soon” to relax other restrictions, Mr Drakeford said: “We must not lose the progress we have made. All of us must continue to work from home wherever they can. All of us must only travel when absolutely necessary.”
Downing Street would not confirm whether the changes in Wales would also apply to England, but said the UK government remained committed to a four-nation approach “wherever possible”.
A spokesman said: “We understand that there could be circumstances where there is divergence when there is evidence that supports it.”
Asked whether English people would be allowed to drive across the border to use Welsh garden centres on Monday, the spokesman hinted that the question might “not be relevant” next week when “you will have our own plan and we can have a fully informed conversation about this”.
The spokesman emphasised that any new measures to relax the lockdown on Sunday would be “very limited”, adding: “I would just stress again that any easement that we do make will be very limited and we will be taking a very cautious approach in order to ensure that we don’t do anything that risks a further peak in the virus.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020
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