COVID-19: Top Welsh medic questions whether PM’s 21 June date for lifting all coronavirus rules is realistic

Wales’ deputy chief medical officer has said he would be “very surprised” if all COVID rules will be eased in his country by 21 June – the date Boris Johnson has targeted to fully lift the lockdown measures in England.

Dr Chris Jones said there is a “real risk” of a third coronavirus wave if restrictions are relaxed too quickly.

He also believes there is going to be a “considerable time before we can mix freely in nightclubs”.

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On Monday night, the prime minister set out his roadmap out of lockdown – where he said England would aim to lift all legal limits on people’s social contact by the June date at the earliest, including reopening nightclubs.

In Wales, ministers have pledged to follow a phased approach with the reopening of schools, aiming to see all pupils return by the start of the summer term in mid-April.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said non-essential retail can begin to reopen from 15 March, ahead of England’s 12 April date, while some self-catering accommodation could open again in time for Easter.

Meanwhile, stay at home rules could be scrapped in as little as three weeks along with the possible reopening of close-contact services such as hairdressers and nail salons.

However, the UK government has given more dates and details for the easing of restrictions in England compared to Wales, such as larger groups being able to meet up outdoors on 29 March and gyms, zoos, museums and libraries potentially reopening by 12 April.

Dr Jones expressed his concern on lifting lockdown measures too quickly, telling BBC Radio Wales that ministers need to be “really careful with the messaging”.

On the prospect of all limits on social contact being lifted in Wales by 21 June, he said: “I would be very surprised if that was the case at that time.

“I think there’s going to be a considerable time before we can mix freely in nightclubs or without any form of social distancing or protection.

“I would be very surprised if we achieve that, but it will be wonderful to think it’s possible”.

He added that restrictions still need to be in place because “this virus still thrives on person-to-person contact and that is going to be the case now for many more months”.

Dr Jones also emphasised that “we are not out of the woods yet” and that the message of everything going back to normal in just a few months’ time carries some risk “because we do know that this pandemic could easily get out of control again”.

He added: “There are a number of models about what could happen in the UK as restrictions are relaxed – and many of them show a significant increase in infections hospitalisations and deaths.

“We are not out of the woods yet this is a critical time where there is risk.”

He said the best approach would be to “take things as we find them step-by-step”.

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