Welsh first minister accused of using lockdown easing to influence poll

Steven Morris
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

The first minister of Wales has said he is not using positive announcements about the easing of lockdown restrictions to try to win votes at next month’s Welsh parliament elections.

At a press conference on Friday lunchtime, Mark Drakeford will spell out the changes, which will mean a range of indoor activities for adults and children is to be allowed earlier than expected. He will also talk about a date for when pubs, bars, cafes and restaurant could serve indoors.

The Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru have suggested Drakeford is using his Welsh government press briefings to unfairly influence the election.

Asked about the criticism, Drakeford told Sky News on Friday morning: “If I had to be announcing more difficult news today, opposition parties would be demanding that I was there making that announcement. I make that announcement every three weeks. I’ve had to do it on some very difficult days when the news has not been good.

“Today I have to return to the podium, as I have every three weeks, to let people in Wales know the assessment of the current state of the virus in Wales, the decisions we’re able to make on their behalf, our assessment of what can happen in the future, and to remind people in Wales that coronavirus is by no means over.”

Drakeford told BBC Radio 5 Live that Wales’s rates of Covid-19 were the lowest in the UK and its vaccination rates the highest, which has “created some extra headroom for us” to ease rules further.

“Three weeks ago, the prevalence rate was 35 per 100,000. That’s today fallen to less than half of that – it’s below 15. We need now to see those numbers held up where they are,” he said.

Though Boris Johnson has given a Covid press conference this week, as has the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, Drakeford’s opponents in Wales said he should have left what were bound to be popular announcements to his chief medical officer, Frank Atherton.

Mark Drakeford (left) listens as Labour&#x002019;s leader, Keir Starmer (centre), talks to the AONB partnership chair, Andy Worthington, during a walkabout in Llangollen for Welsh Labour&#x002019;s Senedd election campaign.
Mark Drakeford (left) listens as Labour’s leader, Keir Starmer (centre), talks to the AONB partnership chair, Andy Worthington, during a walkabout in Llangollen for Welsh Labour’s Senedd election campaign. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

The Welsh Conservatives leader, Andrew RT Davies, said: “So much more detail could have been announced prior to the election period, such as on hospitality, gyms and other economic and social activities, but Labour chose to play politics.

“This latest review announcement should be led by the chief medical officer not the first minister, in what is a blatant attempt to influence May’s election.”

The Welsh government will confirm that from Monday 26 April:

  • Outdoor attractions such as funfairs, theme parks and swimming pools will be able to open.

  • Outdoor hospitality will be allowed.

  • Outdoor organised activity for up to 30 people will be permitted but only run by a responsible individual or an organisation such as a football, rugby, tennis or cricket club.

  • Outdoor wedding receptions for up to 30 people can go ahead.

From Monday 3 May:

  • Gyms, other fitness facilities and leisure centres will be allowed.

  • People will be able to form an extended household with one other household.

Also from 3 May (rather than the later scheduled date of 17 May):

  • Supervised indoor activities for children such as soft play areas will be allowed.

  • Indoor organised activities for up to 15 adults, for example, exercise classes and swimming lessons, can restart.

  • Community centres can reopen.

The first minister said it was “his assessment” (but it will be for the new government to confirm after the Senedd elections on 6 May) that from Monday 17 May:

  • Bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants will be able to serve customers indoors (in line with England).

  • All tourist accommodation, indoor entertainment and attractions will open.