Mark Drakeford, the first minister in Wales, has denied that his decision to bring forward the easing of some restrictions in Wales by two weeks is to do with the forthcoming Senedd election.
The Welsh Labour leader said the changes are due to the creation of “extra headroom” in the public health situation amid criticism from opposition parties.
Indoor supervised activities for children, indoor organised activities for up to 15 adults such as exercise classes, and the reopening of community centres are being brought forward from May 17 to May 3, PA reports.
It means Wales will now complete its move to Alert Level 3 by May 3 – three days before the election – but the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru have accused Drakeford of using his powers as well as Welsh government press briefings to unfairly influence the forthcoming election.
Asked about the criticism by opposition parties, Drakeford told Sky News on Friday:
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.
Passengers on flights into the UK from India must now enter hotel quarantine as the country is officially added to the UK’s coronavirus travel red list.
As of 4am on Friday, people returning from India must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days, while anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen will be banned from entering the country if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.
Four airlines asked for a total of eight extra flights to arrive at Heathrow before the 4am cut-off; however, it is understood that Heathrow declined the airlines’ requests to ensure existing pressures at the border were not exacerbated, PA reports.
The restrictions come in response to mounting concern about the number of Covid-19 cases in India and the emergence there of a variant of the virus.
On Thursday, India reported more than 314,000 new infections – the worst daily sum of the pandemic anywhere in the world.
The variant – also known as B.1.617 – was first noted internationally in October and first identified in the UK on February 22.
It has 13 mutations, including two in the virus’s spike protein, known as E494Q and L452R.
Public Health England (PHE) said on Thursday that 55 cases of the Indian variant were found in the UK in the week to April 14.
It remains unclear whether any of the mutations mean the variant can be transmitted more easily, is more deadly or can evade the effectiveness of vaccines or natural immunity, PHE experts said.
Boris Johnson was forced to cancel a trip to India on Monday as the country struggles to cope with a dramatic surge in cases.
People who arrived back in the UK from India before the red list change told the BBC they were “so relieved” and felt “very lucky”.