Wales could lift coronavirus lockdown before rest of UK, says first minister | World news

The first minister of Wales has said he is ready to move the country out of lockdown earlier than the rest of the UK as he demands more contact from ministers at Westminster.

Mark Drakeford said he would rather work with Boris Johnson’s government but has the power to start enacting his own plan to ease restrictions if he thinks it is in the best interest of Wales.

The Labour politician has been in regular talks with his Scottish counterpart, Nicola Sturgeon, and both countries have now released their own roadmaps to easing lockdown. Johnson said on Monday that he would release more details of his response to the lockdown in the “coming days”.

In an interview with the Guardian, Drakeford said the Coronavirus Act 2020 allows the devolved nations to go their own way and it may now be time to consider putting that into action.

“We have the power to do it, definitely. I’d rather we did it together. If we can’t get to that point and we think there are things that are right to do for Wales then we will go ahead and do that but my ambition is that we do things still together across the United Kingdom.

“The Coronavirus Act does respect devolution. It puts the solution in our own hands and we have already done things differently in a range of different matters where that’s been right for us,” he said.

Wales was the first nation to offer testing to hospital staff and postpone routine operations. The Welsh government has also put into law the two-metre social distancing rule, which is government advice in England.

Drakeford said the government needed to step up its contact with the leaders of the devolved nations and has requested Michael Gove, the de facto deputy prime minister, speak with them early this week and then invite them to a Cobra meeting before the weekend.

That “rhythm” of contact is essential, he said, with his last conversation with Gove was more than 10 days ago.

Johnson said on Monday that he would be reaching out to build a consensus across the country and with opposition parties as the government tries to win “phase two” of the crisis, although no details of what that would entail have been released.

The first minister’s plan for Wales to incrementally leave lockdown if there is a clear decline in coronavirus cases in the next two weeks would operate on a traffic light system. He said 50% of general acute care beds in Wales are currently unoccupied.

Drakeford said the first changes he would implement in the “red phase” would not look very different to the lockdown and would be cautious and careful and their consequences well mapped out.

Already in Wales, shops are able to open if they can use a click and collect system, and people can exercise twice a day if there is a medical reason to do so.

Drakeford denied he was undermining a UK-wide response, saying his plans could and should contribute to what is being worked on in Westminster.

A row over whether people can continue to stay in their second homes in Wales during the lockdown period ignited over the weekend when it was claimed wealthy second home owners were claiming business grants from their Welsh address.

However Drakeford told the BBC that banning people from their second homes was a “very draconian” response and he was not sure it was a legal position they could back up and might have human rights implications.

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