Wales’ latest set of lockdown-easing measures come with new rules for exercising and playing sport.
First Minister Mark Drakeford announced that after the latest review, golf courses and outdoor sports facilities can re-open from Saturday, March 13.
Such facilities also include outdoor gyms, basketball and tennis courts, for example.
Who can I now exercise with in Wales?
Up to four people from two households can now exercise or use outdoor sports facilities together locally.
Rules have been in place since February 20 allowing four people from two households to meet up for exercise – including a walk, run, cycle – but that rule has now been tweaked to allow meeting up to socialise too, including in gardens.
People should still socially distance from each other.
Children under the age of 11 are not included in the four-person rule.
While outdoor sports courts have permission to re-open, it is not an instruction and it does not necessarily mean they will open up to the public right now. Some businesses – five-a-side football pitches, for example – may deem it not to be worth re-opening if only four people from two households can use a pitch at any given time.
Where can I exercise? Can I travel?
The Welsh Government lifting the “stay at home” requirement and replacing it with “stay local” from Saturday is key to allowing people to travel for exercise, even if modestly.
Since before Christmas, exercise should have been starting and finishing from your front door and should not have included driving.
Now, you can drive for exercise but should keep within a five-mile radius of your home as a guide. This means you can drive to your local golf club, outdoor sports court or drive to go fishing or begin a run, for example.
The “stay local” rules will only be in place for two weeks, with people becoming free to travel anywhere in Wales from March 27.
On remaining local, Mr Drakeford said: “The rule of thumb that we used last year, and people became very used to, was that you think local as a five-mile radius from where you are. If you live in more dispersed or rural communities then people an exercise judgement in their own circumstances and can go a little bit further.”
The five-mile guidance does not apply to exercise which starts and finishes at home – without driving – so you can in theory run or cycle for a further distance.
What about children’s sport?
Organised outdoor sporting activities for children will be able to resume from Saturday, March 27, in time for the Easter holidays if the public health situation continues to improve.
In an interview with Gist Vile, he said: “We continue to talk with the people who are responsible for that as to the extent of it but I am wanting to send a signal today to the people who do provide organised outdoor activities for children that they can begin to think about that and prepare for that.
“We will be talking to them how that can be best delivered if circumstances continue to to improve. I want children in the school holidays to have things that they can do.”
The Welsh Rugby Union has since welcomed the news, saying clubs can now plan to return to club-organised training sessions from March 27 – but only if “clubs feel they can provide a safe environment for all concerned and put all the necessary protocols in place”.
Training sessions for under 18s will be focused on skills and fitness-based activities, with tag and touch rugby introduced towards the end of the sessions.
A WRU statement said: “The exact details around the size of the groups permitted to train during this period will be in line with Welsh Government guidelines which will be clarified in due course. However, wherever possible, teams are urged to train in small groups for safety reasons, especially for the tag and touch element of sessions.”
As for under 18s football, the Football Association of Wales said it was “awaiting clarification from Welsh Government on specific restrictions that may be in place for football activity to return for under 18s”.
A spokesperson added: “The latest changes do not directly allow the JD Cymru North and JD Cymru South to begin their limited league season. Therefore, the FAW is currently awaiting clarification from the National Sport Group as to whether their ‘elite status’ designation will be reinstated.”
What about gyms and leisure centres?
While outdoor gyms are able to re-open from March 13, members will have to wait at least a month longer for indoor gyms and leisure centres to open their doors again.
Mr Drakeford confirmed that such facilities will be on the table for discussion to re-open in the second half of April, but this is not guaranteed as restoring other freedoms – like outdoor hospitality re-opening, extending household bubbles and re-opening wedding venues – will also be considered. These measures will not all be lifted at the same time.
Gyms won’t be re-opening before April 12, and even then they may not all be treated the same.
Mr Drakeford said: “I’ve been reading evidence recently that says we shouldn’t treat all gyms the same. Up until now that is what we have done, we have treated gyms as a class. We have kept either all of them closed or all of them open.
“The evidence I have been reading says that gyms that are well ventilated, have large premises and are modern have risks which are at the modest end under spectrum. If they are carefully run the risks can be mitigated.
“Gyms that are small, a bit old-fashioned, have not much ventilation and lots of people close by one another have risks that are likely to be significantly greater. I want to use the weeks ahead to talk with our environmental health officers and the sector to work out if we can have a more differentiated approach to re-opening gyms rather than it being all or nothing.”
All gyms and fitness and leisure centres in Wales were forced to close on December 20 last year when new “alert level four” lockdown restrictions – the most serious – were enforced.