Welsh ministers faced fury today after unveiling an extraordinary bid to ban people from coronavirus hotspots in England entering the country.
First Minister Mark Drakeford was accused of being obsessed with ‘banning the English’ after he announced the move saying people were ‘anxious and fearful’ about importing infection.
He put the blame for the action squarely on Boris Johnson, saying the PM had ignored two letters requesting he introduce travel restrictions in areas of England with high case rates.
But there were immediate questions about how the measure, due to come in from 6pm on Friday, can possibly be enforced.
Police commissioners in Wales suggested they could set up road blocks and follow up tips from the public. However, they have admitted there is not the capacity to ‘line the border with patrol cars’.
Critics also warned that the policy could deal a hammer blow to the tourism industry in Wales, already reeling from the impact of the pandemic.
The bitter row came as:
- The UK’s daily Covid-19 cases have jumped 40 per cent in a week as health officials announced 19,724 more infections and 137 new deaths today;
- Boris Johnson has dismissed calls from SAGE and Keir Starmer for a nationwide ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, vowing to stick to his local ‘Tiers’ of restrictions;
- Northern Ireland will close its pubs for a month from Friday and shut schools for a fortnight from next week under a circuit-breaker lockdown, First Minister Arlene Foster announced;
- The leader of Lancashire County Council has said it is ‘inevitable’ the area will be upgraded to Tier Three coronavirus restrictions soon;
- As many as 12 London boroughs have breached the infection threshold of 100 cases per 100,000 people as Sadiq Khan warns Tier 2 restrictions for the capital are ‘inevitable’;
- Health officials in Liverpool expect to see the number of Covid-19 patients in the city’s hospitals surpass the levels of the first peak in the next seven to 10 days;
- Royal Liverpool hospital has no more beds available in its intensive care unit, according to Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, and a senior doctor warns 58 of 60 beds are filled;
- Nicola Sturgeon has urged Scots not to travel to Blackpool saying 180 recent infections north of the border had been linked to the town;
- The UK’s total coronavirus deaths rose to 43,155 today, while the number of cases diagnosed since the outbreak began in March reached 654,644.
Welsh ministers faced fury today after unveiling an extraordinary bid to ban people from coronavirus hotspots in England entering the country
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford (left) was accused of being obsessed with ‘banning the English’ after he announced the travel ban saying Boris Johnson (right) had ignored his letters
Tory member of the Welsh Parliament Andrew RT Davies said: ‘The Welsh Government’s unhealthy obsession with travel restrictions and ”banning the English” flies in the face of all the evidence.
What laws can be used to stop the English travelling to Wales?
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford today announced an extraordinary bid to ban people from coronavirus hotspots in England entering the country.
In Wales, health protection legislation – a devolved power – falls under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.
It was updated in 2010 to give public authorities ‘more comprehensive powers and duties to prevent and control risks to human health from infection or contamination’.
In its basic form, the act allows Welsh ministers make laws ‘for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection or contamination in Wales’.
The laws that can be put forward include ‘restrictions or requirements on or in relation to persons, things or premises in the event of, or in response to, a threat to public health.’
While the act does not specifically mention limitations on movements, the travel ban – set to come in place from 6pm on Friday – was likely made law using the powers it grants.
‘Last month’s SAGE advice said such a move would have a ”low impact” and would be ‘complicated’ to enforce.’
Former minister Simon Clarke voiced anger at the ‘balkanisation of the UK. ‘The balkanisation of the United Kingdom in this way is profoundly to be regretted. Not what devolution ought to be about,’ he tweeted.
Tory MP Michael Fabricant said it was ‘understandable’ that Wales wanted to limit infections.
But he added: ‘Talk by a minority of Welsh nationalists of ”stopping the English at the border” creates tensions and damages tourism in Gwynned and elsewhere in Wales.
‘The last lockdown was extremely damaging to the hospitality sector. Watch your language!’
The drastic restrictions come after Nicola Sturgeon suggested she is also considering a ban, and warned Scots not to travel to Blackpool because 180 cases north of the border had been linked to the seaside town recently.
In Wales, there are 17 areas under higher local lockdowns, which include rules against entering or leaving the area without a reasonable excuse such as work or education.
However, currently people living in Covid-19 hotspots elsewhere in the UK are free to enter areas of Wales not under restrictions where levels of the virus are low.
Under regulations being prepared, people living in areas with high levels of coronavirus in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be able to travel to Wales.
Mr Drakeford told the Welsh Parliament: ‘I have therefore asked for the necessary work to be brought forward, which would allow for devolved powers to be used to prevent people from travelling into Wales from high-prevalence areas of the United Kingdom.’
Police commissioners in Wales suggested they could set up road blocks and follow up tips from the public. However, they have admitted there is not the capacity to ‘line the border with patrol cars’. Pictured: The M4 in Wales earlier this month
In Wales, there are 17 areas under higher local lockdowns, which include rules against entering or leaving the area without a reasonable excuse such as work or education. Pictured: A shopper wearing a mask in the main shopping district of Oxford Street in Swansea earlier this month
He said it was ‘important’ to emphasise that it was not an issue regarding the border between Wales and England but a ‘matter of fairness’.
‘We’ve already heard from the First Minister of Scotland and she’s eager to support what we’re trying to do here. Now is the time for the Prime Minister to do the same thing,’ Mr Drakeford told the Senedd.
‘If he isn’t willing to do so then the timetable is for us to use the powers in Wales by the end of the week.’
Before the announcement police commissioners had already been voiced doubts about enforcement.
‘I can’t see us lining the border with patrol cars because none of the police forces in Wales have the resources to do that,’ the North Wales commissioner Arfon Jones said, while making clear he agreed with the idea ‘in principle’.
The drastic restrictions come after Nicola Sturgeon (pictured today) suggested she is also considering a ban, and warned Scots not to travel to Blackpool because 180 cases north of the border had been linked to the seaside town recently
Ms Sturgeon earlier told the Scottish Government’s press briefing she supported Mr Drakeford’s push for travel restrictions to be imposed across the UK, and would not rule out imposing her own.
‘I want to be clear today that I back the calls from the First Minister of Wales and I’ll be writing to the Prime Minister today to seek urgent talks on that issue,’ she said.
Ms Sturgeon added: ‘On the specific about travel restrictions, if we think putting formal travel restrictions in places necessary, we will do that and I don’t rule that out – I don’t rule anything out.’
The chief executive of the Welsh NHS, Dr Andrew Goodall, said he would also ‘welcome any actions that help us have a control of the levels of community transmission’ when asked if he was in favour of the travel ban.