A temporary national lockdown will be imposed in Wales, the Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, has announced.
The Welsh government believes a two-week “firebreak” – from Friday at 6pm until Monday 9 November – is vital to help bring the virus under control.
About 2.3 million people in Wales are already living under local lockdown rules – 15 of Wales’s 22 counties plus Bangor and Llanelli.
The Labour-led Welsh government has also banned people from travelling into Wales from tier 2 and tier 3 areas in other parts of the UK. But the government believes it needs to go further. It argues that a sharp lockdown now will give it and the NHS in Wales breathing space ahead of a difficult winter.
Everyone in Wales will be required to stay at home and work from home wherever possible. Workers in critical jobs and those for whom working from home is not possible are allowed out.
Non-essential shops, tourism and hospitality businesses will have to close, except for takeaways, along with community centres, libraries and places of worship – other than for funerals and weddings.
Drakeford said children were the Welsh government’s “top priority”. He said childcare would stay open and primary and special schools would reopen as normal after half-term.
“Secondary schools will reopen after the half-term for children in years 7 and 8 and for those taking exams. Other pupils will continue their learning from home for an extra week,” he said.
All gatherings indoors and outdoors will be banned with people from other households. There will be an exception for people who live alone, who can continue to join one other household.
Drakeford said the virus was spreading rapidly in every part of Wales and if action was not taken it would continue to accelerate, risking overwhelming the NHS. He said: “The firebreak is the shortest we can make it, but that means it will have to be sharp and deep to have the maximum impact on the virus.”
College students will study from home in the week commencing 9 November and universities will continue to provide a blend of in person and online learning.
“In the same way we are asking everyone to stay at home, if students have reading weeks or half-term they will also need to stay at home in their university accommodation,” Drakeford added.
He said the firebreak would not be extended beyond 9 November – but he did not rule out further circuit breakers being imposed at a later date. He said he did not expect the number of cases to come down until the two weeks after the firebreak.
Bonfire Night fireworks parties and Halloween gatherings would be banned but Remembrance Day events on Sunday 8 November would be allowed to go ahead. The ban will be “self-policing”, he added, as “it will be very obvious if people are trying to break the law”.
Drakeford announced an “enhanced economic resilience fund of almost £300m” to support businesses affected.
The Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, said: “A firebreak is a last resort and should only be used in an emergency. We are now in an emergency.
“The time the firebreak buys us must be used to build up a resilient test, trace and isolate system in Wales – which means we can prevent being in the position we’re currently in, where the case numbers have risen to the point where they can overwhelm an already exhausted NHS.”
Plaid has published a 14-point plan explaining how it would try to drive down infections ranging from increasing the speed of testing to cancelling GCSEs and A-levels in 2021.
The Conservative leader in Wales, Paul Davies, said: “Sadly, the first minster has failed to get public support for this second Wales-wide lockdown, failing to be open and transparent about the evidence to justify this lockdown and what his actions will entail for the future.
“The Welsh government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns. This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year.
“However, the main concern is that this national lockdown is not proportionate. The impact on businesses in areas such as Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, who have the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases in Wales, will be severe at a time when they are desperately struggling to recover from the pandemic so far this year.”
Leaders of the Welsh hospitality industry said a lockdown could put jobs at risk for almost a third of its workforce.
Meanwhile, police in Gwent, south-east Wales, said they had stopped hundreds of people suspected of breaking the Welsh government’s travel ban over the weekend.