Cardiff will become the first capital city in Great Britain to be placed under a local lockdown from 6pm on Sunday, Wales’ health minister has said.
Vaughan Gething said restrictions will also come into force for Swansea at the same point while the town of Llanelli will be placed under lockdown a day earlier at 6pm on Saturday.
It means 1.5 million people in Wales, just under half the population, will be under local lockdowns from the start of next week due to “rapidly” rising coronavirus cases.
Measures are already in place in Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport, and Rhondda Cynon Taf.
The restrictions for Cardiff and Swansea, Wales’ two biggest cities, and Llanelli in Carmarthenshire mean people will not be able to enter or leave the areas without a reasonable excuse.
Extended household rules will be suspended, meaning people will also not be able to meet indoors with anyone they do not live with, while people must also work at home if possible.
On Friday, Mr Gething warned that the time before the lockdowns come into force should not be used to have a “big blowout” over the weekend.
He told the Welsh Government’s Covid-19 briefing in Cardiff: “The measures reflect the seriousness of the position, and we ask people to reflect on that and their own conduct and to avoid unnecessary contact with other people.”
Mr Gething said the Welsh Government would keep a “close eye” on rising cases in Neath Port Talbot, the Vale of Glamorgan and Torfaen over the weekend.
Llanelli would be put into a local lockdown earlier than the two Welsh cities as the spread of the virus there was “not in control”, he explained, saying authorities understood the need to “act as soon as possible”.
The Sunday deadline for Cardiff and Swansea would allow people to “plan and prepare for moving out” over the weekend.
He also said he would not keep the “truly extraordinary measures” in place any longer than they are necessary, adding: “With people’s help, they may only need to be a short-term measure to help bring the virus back under control.”
Students starting their university terms in the coming weeks would still be allowed to travel into Cardiff and Swansea, he confirmed, but admitted there would be an “interruption” to the normal university experience, with restrictions on their freedom to meet other people.
“Coming for work or education is a reasonable excuse for travel and so students will be arriving, many of them are here already of course in their chosen university towns or cities,” Mr Gething said.
“The message to students is to be responsible, to familiarise themselves with the local rules.”
But he said people would not be allowed to travel into areas of Wales subjected to a local lockdown for holidays, but that the restrictions would not affect people using Cardiff Airport.
Mr Gething said he had written to holiday providers and insurance companies asking them to provide refunds and support for those no longer able to travel into affected areas.
“We’ve been really clear that travel for holiday to stay within a local area isn’t a reasonable excuse,” he said.
Andrew RT Davies, shadow health minister for the Welsh Conservatives, called for “clarity and consistency” following the announcement, and called on ministers to provide financial support for businesses that would be “devastated” by the lockdowns.
“Welsh Conservatives have been calling for the use of more detailed data and the introduction of ‘smart, hyperlocal’ lockdowns and I take some comfort that is at least the case in Llanelli, but I regret this has seemingly not been possible in our capital city of Cardiff,” Mr Davies said.
“I have to say I’m also confused as to why the local lockdowns are being imposed on different days in Cardiff and Swansea, and Llanelli.
“Covid doesn’t know one day from the next, and I didn’t find the health minister’s explanation that satisfactory.”
On Friday, there were a further 320 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Wales, bringing the total in the country to 22,215.
Public Health Wales said three further deaths had been reported, with the total since the beginning of the pandemic increasing to 1,609.