Wales is moving forward with caution as 17 months of unprecedented restrictions and lockdowns look to be coming to an end.

While nearly all restrictions, including formal social distancing measures, which have limited capacities in public places and shut down large parts of the economy, are lifted, the Welsh Government is stressing vigilance is required.

It is moving the emphasis for keeping the virus at bay to individuals, businesses and event organisers.

The country has moved into Alert Level Zero, which means there is no longer a restriction on meeting others in private homes – arguably one of the most stringent conditions introduced as the UK began to face the enormity of the Covid pandemic in March 2020. All businesses are also able to reopen.

But First Minister Mark Drakeford warned: “Alert Level Zero does not mean the end of coronavirus and very certainly does not mean a free for all here in Wales. We still have clinically vulnerable people in our communities.”

READ MORE: What is Alert Level Zero?

Asked if he may need to reimpose restrictions in future, Mr Drakeford replied: “Provided we do not see further unexpected turns in the course of the virus then we can have confidence we are on the final lap of emerging from the pandemic but we can’t possibly make the assumption the virus may not yet have further unpleasant surprises for us, that’s been the history of the past 18 months.”

He said new should new strains emerge, or make the vaccine less effective, the Government would “inevitably have to face the consequences of that and take measures to address it”.

Perhaps one the most iconic symbols that normal activities can once again take place will be if the Wales rugby team are able to host the All Blacks in front of a full capacity 74,500-strong crowd on October 30.

A spokeswoman for the Principality Stadium confirmed that it anticipates operating at full capacity and will be releasing tickets this week.

“We go on sale on August 12 and we’re hoping for full crowds at the autumn internationals,” said the spokeswoman for the stadium, which was able to re-open with capacity cut to a tiny 8,000 for both of Wales’ games against Argentina in July.

When the pandemic and approaching lockdowns took hold in March 2020, Wales’ Six Nations fixture with Scotland was one of the last sporting events to be called off at the eleventh hour as it seemed decision makers were unsure how to respond to the public health crisis, the likes of which had not been seen in 100 years.

The National Wales: A full-capacity crowd is expected at the Principality Stadium for Wales’ game against New Zealand in October now that restrictions have been mostly lifted. Inset right, First Minister Mark Drakeford
Main picture: David Davies/PA Wire

The Welsh Government, which at the start of the pandemic was seen as sticking too closely to Downing Street, has since been confident in setting its own course.

The most striking difference between the two governments at present is Cardiff Bay continuing to advise against non-essential international travel while the UK Government relaxes and tightens rules.

Advice in Wales remains to work from home and although anyone who has been double jabbed will no longer have to isolate if they’ve been in contact with a positive case, track and trace staff will urge them to limit their contacts. The importance of anyone, vaccinated or not, complies with isolation has been stressed by the First Minister.

Where England had originally been told to expect a ‘freedom day’ - which had to be pushed back from June to July due to rising cases - the Welsh Government had long warned some restrictions or requirements would remain.

Wearing masks in most indoor public places remains a requirement in Wales.

The Government has now moved the emphasis away from mandated restrictions to businesses and operators making their own risk assessments, and doing so is a legal requirement.

READ MORE: Six things you need to know from Welsh Covid press briefing

At the Principality Stadium that will mean masks will still likely have to be worn when spectators are out of their seats.

Shoppers will also have to continue to wear masks.

A spokeswoman for Wales’ largest retail centre, St David’s in Cardiff, said it will operate at full capacity but will keep some of the measures introduced since first reopening last year: “We will be keeping in place the additional cleaning regimes we’ve had throughout the pandemic and hand sanitiser will continue to be available.

“There will, however, be some changes that guests will see. These changes include the removal of the current one-way system and returning capacity levels to what they were pre-Covid.”

While sport faced a season with supporters locked out, the entertainment sector has been among the hardest hit. Nightclubs haven’t opened in Wales since March 2020 and only a handful of live music events have been able to take place, with restrictive conditions imposed.

READ MORE: Cardiff Bay 10k and Newport Marathon to go ahead in autumn

Clubs have advertised grand re-opening nights and the live music circuit is expected to be up and running soon.

David Wilson, the director of Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon, says at present it is continuing to operate with crowds of just 50 in a theatre that can hold 500. He sits on the board representing Welsh venues and says they will be keen to see further guidance from the Government.

“We have a lot of community organisations that use our venue and they haven’t been able to use their rehearsal spaces, perhaps they will get back and be able to do something for their communities,” said the theatre boss who predicted professional shows may not restart until the autumn.

Mary Wimbury, who represents Welsh care homes, warned the sector is at present unable to return to open houses and life as it was: “Families will have to appreciate the balance that care homes seek between safety of the home and visiting. Visiting policies will be revised for each setting, taking into account staffing and other available resources.

“Individual care homes will have to assess the risk, depending on a number of factors including the infection rate in their local area, before allowing visits to go ahead.”

Though many freedoms have been restored, the risks, perhaps currently felt most keenly by the most vulnerable, are a reminder that our lives are still subject to a delicate balance of public health protections and the desire for a return to life as it was before the pandemic.

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