For a month the Welsh Government has said that all the headroom at the next lockdown review will be used to start the re-opening of schools.
However with infections rates for Wales dipping below 100 cases per 100,000 and test positivity below 10% (a key indicator) decision-makers in the government have said they are actively considering taking further limited steps beyond just bringing foundation-level students back to school.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday health minister Vaughan Gething said: “The First Minister has said we are looking at whether there are any other small changes we are able to make to give families a bit more flexibility after such a long lockdown.”
WalesOnline asked Mr Gething what measures were under consideration but he refused to say. However this is one of the biggest questions for people in Wales who have been told to not see their families, other than in limited circumstances such as permitted support bubbles or outdoors on a one-to-one basis for exercise if both live near one another, since December.
We have therefore listed some of the measures that might be under consideration as the next review nears on Friday.
It must be stressed that this is not in any way guaranteed . This is merely a discussion of options based on the Welsh Government’s previous announcements and the current system of restrictions.
What is definitely planned?
Children aged between three and seven are set to return to Welsh primary schools on February 22 though some councils have said that they will not be asking children to attend school on this date due to local coronavirus infection rates.
This is going to eat into the vast majority of headroom available to Mark Drakeford when it comes to further restrictions but it seems the Welsh Government feels like there is more flexibility than expected. So what else could be on the table?
While it is impossible to say exactly some ideas can be drawn from what decision-makers have done previously.
Meeting more people outdoors
Since January 30 people have been allowed to meet one other person from one other local household for outdoor exercise in their immediate area though they must still socially distance from one another.
One option the Welsh Government could consider would be to increase the amount of people who can meet outdoors.
There is precedent for this. Back in the summer the Welsh Government did not place limits on the number of people from two households who could meet outside even when the other UK nations did. At the time Mr Drakeford said this was in part to support larger families.
As we came out of the fire-break lockdown he again prioritised allowing multiple households to meet (though this time as part of indoor hospitality) citing the effect on young people that came from not being able to see friends.
There are other reasons to suggest that this is a possible option. We are now coming up to eight weeks since restrictions began to be tightened in Wales. It was after a similar period in the first lockdown that the Welsh Government began considering allowing increased outdoor mixing though it should be stressed this was a totally different situation and there was warmer weather.
Ultimately meeting outdoors has long been accepted as the safest way for people to see one another and is therefore likely a key consideration for new measures.
Golf, tennis, fishing, and gyms
A regular question from people in Wales is: “Why can I go for a walk with another person but not go fishing, play tennis, or have a round of golf?”
After all these are low-risk activities where social distancing is easy. The First Minister has repeatedly conceded they are very low risk as well as accepting the mental health benefits of them but said that “very little bit [of risk] counts”.
It seems likely that these will be among the first sports and activities to re-open (though restrictions on tennis were a repeated source of frustration for many in the summer) however it seems unlikely that these would be allowed before people could meet multiple people outdoors.
Gyms are another matter and there is some confusion about how soon they could re-open.
Just two weeks ago Welsh Government minister Baroness Eluned Morgan said that they “absolutely recognise the amazing difference that keeping fit can have on someone’s mental health” and “that’s why we were actually really reluctant to close down gyms [and] that’s why when we re-open it will be one of the first things that we try and consider”.
Reading these quotes would seem to suggest that gyms would be top of the list for re-opening – however the scientific advice to the Welsh Government doesn’t seem to back that up.
The Technical Advisory Group’s environmental science subgroup has published a document identifying the “key risks” associated with gyms, leisure centres, and dance or exercise classes. This includes potential for a super-spreading event, infection through aerosol transmission, and infection through direct contact with contaminated surfaces and equipment.
It seems highly unlikely that gyms will even be considered in the next review.
Return of the five-mile rule?
It was a key part of much of last summer – the rule of thumb that people could not travel more than five miles from their home.
This led to the contrasting images of beaches in England and Wales last year which saw English beaches packed while Welsh ones were quiet.
Part of the idea behind it was to stop the virus quickly spreading to different parts of Wales. It seems unlikely to be considered at this point though because with non-essential retail and attractions closed, and no household meeting beside single-person bubbles, where would people go anyway?
Increasing household bubbles
Household bubbles were brought in last summer to give people some flexibility with who they meet.
Once in a bubble people are essentially treated as one household and can mix freely and stay in one another’s homes overnight.
At present only people living alone (or single parents) can form a household bubble. This could be expanded to allow everyone to form a bubble but there are big reasons to be sceptical of this happening.
First and foremost it would be very risky. Once you allow bubbles it could significantly increase people mixing where it is most dangerous – inside.
Mixing inside homes has been one of the biggest drivers of infection since the start of the crisis last year and it seems unlikely that the Welsh Government would reintroduce this at the same time as re-opening schools.
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk