Welsh minister warns of possible national lockdown as Covid cases rise

A new national lockdown could be imposed within weeks unless people follow the updated rules on social gatherings, the Welsh health minister has said.

Vaughan Gething also revealed that the Labour-controlled government was investigating a range of measures for Wales including imposing curfews to try to control the spread of the virus.

He said the same sort of pattern seen in early February as Covid-19 spread across the UK was being observed again. The health minister pointed out that seven weeks later, in the third week of March, Wales, along with the rest of the UK, was in lockdown.

Gething told a press conference in Cardiff that there were hotspots of Covid-19 across four areas of south Wales and if people did not change their behaviour there could be a second national lockdown within seven weeks or even sooner.

“There is a limited period for us to reconsider the choices we are making and to behave in a different way if we are to avoid more local lockdowns or a national lockdown. I really hope people take that message on board.”

He said the government was looking at increasing the range of measures it had available including the “possible introduction” of curfews, restricting alcohol sales and changing pub operations, including shorter opening hours or only selling alcohol with food.

Gething said there had been a “sharp rise” in coronavirus cases in Caerphilly county borough, a part of the Rhondda Valley, the city of Newport and the town of Merthyr Tydfil.

In Caerphilly, where a local lockdown was introduced last week, Gething said the infection was now being found in people in their 40s and 50s as well as younger people. He said this would result in more people being hospitalised in the next three weeks.

A cluster of cases in Merthyr has been found connected to one company and in the Rhondda another small cluster has been discovered associated with a caravan park.

At the heart of the rise in Newport is a party held over the bank holiday weekend, which led to 18 new cases. Many of these people then visited other venues on nights out.

Gething said that if a widespread lockdown was necessary he hoped all four UK governments would work together – but said he would also take Wales-only action if needed. He called for Cobra meetings involving the heads of the four governments to begin again.

From Monday it became mandatory for most people in Wales to wear face masks when in indoor public places such as shops.

In Newport, the vast majority of people in stores were following the rule. Mano Lima, owner of the Wardrobe fashion shop, said: “Most people seem to be fine with it. I think people will do whatever they can to try to avoid a second lockdown.”

Meanwhile, both the Welsh and Scottish governments have raised urgent concerns with the UK government about significant delays getting Covid test results from the UK’s rapid testing centre.

Gething said community coronavirus testing had been hampered by the ongoing issues with the UK government’s Lighthouse lab system. The Welsh government is planning to send some tests that would have gone to the Lighthouse system to its own NHS laboratories.

The Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “We need the UK government to share the full scale and nature of the issues that they’re facing so we can collectively and very quickly find solutions.”