Wales to enter two-week lockdown from 23 October

All practices will be able to remain open to provide services as part of the amber recovery phase guidance, Optometry Wales shared

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The First Minister of Wales has announced that a short lockdown will be introduced in Wales from this Friday, in order to help “regain control of coronavirus (COVID-19).”

Though “non-food” retail and some close-contact businesses such as hairdressers will be required to close, Optometry Wales shared that optical practices will be exempt from these measures and able to remain open.

The decision comes as the number of coronavirus cases across Wales grows, with much of the country already under local restrictions and new travel restrictions recently introduced.

The two-week measures, which the Welsh Government are calling a “fire-break,” will begin at 6pm on 23 October and end on Monday 9 November, replacing local restrictions and applying to everyone living in Wales.

The new restrictions will mean that people in Wales must stay home except for limited purposes, such as exercise, and must work from home where possible. Individuals also must not visit people they do not live with, either indoors or outdoors. Face coverings must be worn in indoor public spaces and on public transport.

NHS and health services will continue to operate. However, all non-food retail and hospitality businesses, such as cafes and restaurants that do not provide takeaway or delivery services, as well as close-contact services such as hairdressers and beauticians, must close. Events and tourism businesses must also close.

Optometry Wales shared confirmation from the Welsh Government that patients will be able to leave their houses to access local health services, including eye care. All practices will be able to remain open to provide services as part of the ‘amber phase’ of recovery guidance.

The organisation explained that this means practices should prioritise and schedule appointments to best consider clinical needs and presenting symptoms “relative to the risk of sight loss and harm to the patient,” and to offer remote consultations in the first instance to determine COVID-19 status and the level of care needed.

Guidance continued on to explain that routine appointments are to be scheduled on a basis of prioritisation, if there is appropriate capacity and once urgent and essential appointments have been managed. Practices should continue to follow the College of Optometrist guidance on infection control, social distancing and PPE.

The Welsh Government announced that it will establish a new £300m package to support businesses affected by the lockdown. This will run alongside the existing Job Retention Scheme and Job Support Scheme.

Through the package, businesses covered by the small business rates relief will receive a £1000 payment while small and medium-sized retail, leisure and hospitality businesses ,which will have to close, will receive a one-off payment of up to £5000. There will also be additional discretionary grants and support for smaller struggling businesses.

Announcing the measures, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “It is with a heavy heart that I once again ask everyone to stay at home and for businesses to shut.”

Acknowledging that many are “tired of coronavirus and the many rules and regulations we all have to live with,” Mr Drakeford added that: “This fire-break is our best chance of regaining control of the virus and avoiding a much-longer – and damaging – national lockdown. We have a small window of opportunity to act.”

The First Minister has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to request early access for Welsh businesses to the new Job Support Scheme, which launches in November.

Local restrictions had been implemented in areas across Wales throughout late September into October, following rising cases of the virus.

The Welsh Government has outlined that, while these measures helped to keep the spread of the virus “in check,” additional action is needed.

Public Health Wales recorded 4127 new confirmed cases of coronavirus between 9 – 15 October, based on positive test results. The Welsh Government confirmed that the ‘R number’ (or reproductive number) is currently between 1.1 and 1.4 meaning there is a “continued exponential growth” in the number of cases.

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This article has been updated to reflect confirmation received from the Welsh Government on the position of optical practices during the two week restrictions.