Welsh ministers and health experts have expressed concern at the UK government’s target to lift all limits on socialising in England by June and insisted that reopening schools to all pupils at the same time was unsafe.
The Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, said he was worried that the UK government’s aspiration to restart international holiday flights by the end of May and for nightclubs in England to open by the end of June could lead to a resurgence in coronavirus.
“We simply can’t predict months and months into the future what the position will be with the spread of coronavirus,” Gething said. “To give somehow a baked-in roadmap with dates not data going into the middle of the summer I don’t think is the right approach.”
Gething described the UK’s decision to get all children back to school at the same time as the “big bang approach”. “We have made a deliberate choice to be faithful to the scientific evidence and public health advice,” he said. “Our risk appetite is different.”
The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, defended his country’s phased reintroduction of face-to-face learning, which means that some secondary pupils will not get back to the classroom until after Easter, more than a month later than their counterparts in England.
Drakeford insisted that the Welsh government was following the advice of scientists and quoted the warning from the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which in January said returning all pupils together would raise the R number by between 10 and 50%.
The first minister said: “We are recommended to return children in tranches, to pause between those tranches so we can properly gather the evidence of the impact of that return. We will return children to school as fast as it is safe to do so. We will follow the science whatever happens elsewhere.”
During first minister’s questions, the leader of the Tories in the Welsh parliament, Andrew RT Davies, claimed there was an “absence of any coherent plan to bring the Welsh economy out of lockdown” and flagged up a complaint by the Federation of Small Businesses that there had been “radio silence” from the government over the way out of restrictions.
Drakeford argued his government had begun to set out the way forward and would be liaising with businesses before the next three-weekly review of the restrictions.
The deputy chief medical officer for Wales, Chris Jones, also expressed concern and scepticism over the UK government’s 21 June target to lift all limits in England on socialising.
Asked on BBC Radio Wales about the excitement in England the announcement of the date had caused, Jones said: “One is very concerned. The messaging to the public has always been very important here. To send the message that everything is going to be back to normal in a few months’ time is a message with some risk. This pandemic could easily go out of control again. This is a critical time.
“There is a real risk of a third wave if restrictions are lifted too quickly and too early. There’s no doubt about that. We still have a vulnerable population. We’ve only had time to vaccinate the most at risk.”