Welsh leader Mark Drakeford has expressed concern about the Indian coronavirus variant spreading across the border from England hotspots as his country moves to further ease lockdown restrictions.

While ruling out a ban on travel, the first minister has urged visitors from the North West to take “all the precautions” in order to keep themselves and others safe against COVID-19.

From Monday, groups of up to 30 people can meet outdoors, including in private gardens, while up to three households will be able to meet indoors as Wales moves towards alert level one.

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Concerts, football matches and sporting events can go ahead for up to 4,000 people standing and 10,000 people seated, so long as a full risk assessment and coronavirus precautions are in place.

The staged relaxing of COVID measures will be reviewed ahead of 21 June to decide whether indoor events can restart.

Mr Drakeford said the phased approach to unlocking will allow more people to be vaccinated twice amid growing concerns about the spread of the Indian variant, also known as the Delta variant, across the UK.

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There are currently 97 cases of the highly transmissible strain in Wales, including a cluster in Conwy, in the North West of the country, although Mr Drakeford said these are being managed by public health teams.

He told Sky News: “We are more concerned about the extent to which that new variant is spreading across the border in the North West of England in particular, because it is just inevitable that if that variant is now in community spread in England then it will come across the border into Wales.

“So we are watching that very carefully indeed.”

Pressed over whether this would see the reintroduction of a ban on cross-border travel, Mr Drakeford said: “We don’t believe that would be a proportionate course of action at this time.

“We are very keen to welcome people to Wales.

“But what we are asking people who are coming from hotspots is, is to take all the precautions that they can to keep themselves and other people safe.

“It’s asking people who are visiting us, and I am very keen to welcome them to Wales, to act in that responsible and careful way.”

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‘More research needed on the Nepal variant’

On the relaxing of the lockdown rules, he said: “We are all on the same journey across the United Kingdom. We are all of us doing our best to ease restrictions as quickly as we can.

“We will do that in a way that is right for Wales. While I will be interested of course in the decisions made in England, they wont the decisions that determine what happens in Wales.

“We will carry on making our decisions in a way that we think offers people in Wales the best defence against this virus.”

It comes as the government announced Portugal will move from the UK government’s green list to the amber list, meaning travellers returning from the popular holiday destination will have to quarantine on their return.


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