Further lockdown restrictions are being lifted in Wales to allow families and friends to be reunited, though the government admitted the new regime in northern England had given it pause for thought.
The Labour-led government said it had no plans to close the border between England and Wales but said it was ready to reimpose “stay local” restrictions if there were fresh Welsh outbreaks.
The first minister, Mark Drakeford, said it was important for people who had been separated to get back together before autumn. He stressed the coronavirus crisis would not be over by Christmas.
From Monday, up to 30 people will be able to meet outdoors in Wales, though physical distancing must be maintained for people over the age of 11. Younger children will no longer have to maintain a 2-metre distance from adults or other youngsters.
Pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes will be able to reopen indoors from Monday, as will indoor bowling alleys, auction houses and bingo halls.
Licensed wedding venues will be able to reopen for ceremonies. However, indoor receptions will not be able to take place for the time being – they will be considered as part of the changes lined up for 15 August.
From the following Monday (10 August), the plan is to reopen swimming pools, gyms, leisure centres and children’s indoor play areas.
Drakeford said the lockdown was being eased in a “careful, step-by-step” way and most of the headroom it believed it had was being used to make sure more family and friends could catch up.
He said: “We are facing the likelihood of a resurgence of the virus over the autumn and winter – this will not be over by Christmas.”
The first minister said evidence suggested increased contact in people’s houses was risky. “This is one of the most difficult areas from a public health perspective because as people have more contact with one another indoors, the risk of transmission increases,” he said.
“More than half of the cases our contract-tracers identified in July in north Wales were linked to household contacts.”
The UK government announced on Thursday night that people from different households in Greater Manchester, parts of East Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Leicester would not be able to meet each other indoors or in their gardens. Commenting on the development, Drakeford said: “All of this is bound to give us pause for thought.”
But he said it would not lead to north and south Wales having different Covid-19 restrictions. “I don’t anticipate in a blanket way a different regime for the north of Wales and the south of Wales,” he said.
“If there are local flare-ups we will mobilise our public health effort – our test, trace, protect system – to bear down on those outbreaks, as we have shown we can do successfully in Anglesey and in Merthyr Tydfil over recent weeks.”
Asked if the Welsh government would think about trying to restrict travel from England, Drakeford said the border was permeable, with people travelling in both directions, and the approach would be to think about local lockdowns to tackle flare-ups.
Questioned over whether a priority was making sure children returned to school in the autumn, the first minister said: “The urgent need for children to return to school will always be among the primary considerations.”