Some families and friends will be able to hug for the first time in months and fitness fans can get back to gyms as lockdown restrictions ease in Wales.
From Monday two households, plus another living on their own, will be able to form a “bubble” to meet and have contact indoors.
Gyms, swimming pools and community centres can also reopen after major changes to restrictions.
Wales’ case rate has fallen to its lowest point in eight months.
Under major changes to restrictions to our daily lives, organised children’s indoor activities – like sports classes, scouts, guides and parent and baby classes – will also be able to restart after for the first time since the December lockdown.
One pool in Swansea reopened for swimmers to take the plunge at the stroke of midnight, after months out of the water.
Meanwhile yoga, spin, boxing and cross fit members are getting ready to head back to sessions, as rules mean indoor fitness classes can begin again for up to 15 people, but only if they are organised and in a regulated setting, like a studio or gym.
However, children’s birthday parties or family gatherings are still banned under the updated guidance.
Children’s soft play areas will not due to reopen until 17 May – the day pubs and restaurants are due to open indoors and all holiday accommodation will reopen.
When do gyms reopen in Wales?
Gyms, fitness facilities, leisure centres, spas and swimming pools can all reopen from Monday, with strict social distancing and sanitising procedures in place.
This latest lockdown easing is the last act of the current Welsh Labour government before Thursday’s Welsh Parliament election – and First Minister Mark Drakeford moved the rules relaxation forward after pressure from gym owners and opposition parties.
‘Excited to be back’
After months of teaching yoga via a computer screen into people’s homes Alecs Donovan said she was excited to welcome people back to the studio to see people in person.
The Wales rugby player and yoga teacher set up Yoga Hub in Cardiff just weeks before the first lockdown, and had to move all her classes online.
“We are really looking forward to it, it feels like this last lockdown was really long, it has been really hard for so many people,” she said.
While only 15 people can attend indoor classes under Covid rules, Ms Donovan said she was limiting classes to nine, to make sure people felt safe and could “ease back in” after months of being unable to practise with others in person.
“I feel people might be a bit anxious going back to classes because of the lack of socialising over the last few months,” she said, “but with the anxiousness comes excitement as well.”
“All the classes are fully booked, with five or so on the waiting list, it shows people are ready to come back,” said Ms Donovan, who said she would continue teaching online at the same time for those who could not attend.
“It doesn’t seem real in a way, I’m so excited to open, I just hope we don’t have to close again.”
‘Ecstatic to get back to baby classes’
After having her baby girl, Eira-Lily, Christie-Ann Jones says she is excited for them to get to baby groups for her daughter to spend time with their new friends.
The mother and daughter, from Cardiff, had gone to their first baby class in September, but then the firebreak lockdown happened and everything closed again.
After spending her maternity leave in lockdown, Christie-Ann said it had then been hard not being able to talk to other new mums, to “go through it together” and “bounce off” while sharing the experience of having a new baby.
“I’m so glad to be able to go out it’s been so isolating and lonely,” she said, “I haven’t had that same connection I guess with other mums, it’s been so hard.”
Christie-Ann took Eira-Lily to an outdoor baby group and said it was lovely to see her interacting with other babies, and being able to meet her friends again outdoors had made a huge difference.
“Straight away she was waving, smiling, clapping, she does do that at home with us, but if I’m bored of the sight of my own house, I bet she is,” she said.
Stroke of midnight swim
Some facilities were due to open just after midnight on Monday – despite it being a bank holiday – for keen swimmers in Swansea to head for a very early morning swim.
“Physical activity is vital to our health and wellbeing and it’s more important than ever now in the fight against Covid-19,” said Tracey McNulty of Swansea council.
Swansea’s leisure centres, including the popular LC, will reopen like many gyms across Wales – and leisure centres in Cardiff, where only advance online and app bookings are allowed “to manage the number of customers”.
Rhys Jones of Better, who run leisure centres across Cardiff, said allowing gyms and pools to reopen would help prevent a further “health crisis”.
“Exercising has been tough throughout the lockdown winter months and people have been robbed of the opportunity to enjoy regular exercise.
“This has had untold consequences on the physical and mental health of our population and for every day that leisure facilities remain closed, public health deteriorates further, and the risk of obesity and stress becomes critical.”
Why are lockdown restrictions easing?
The latest lockdown easing means Wales is entirely into its alert level three – or very high – tier of restrictions where many strict Covid rules remain in place in a bid to control the virus.
Wales’ infection rate of 11.3 cases per 100,000 and its virus positivity rate are at their lowest since 1 September while Covid patient hospital admissions are now in single figures and at their lowest since the start of the pandemic.
How does Wales’ rule easing compare?
Wales is the last UK nation to reopen gyms and swimming pools for individual exercise.
But is the first for allowing the resumption of adult indoor group exercise and indoor mixing of two households – those won’t happen in England and Scotland until 17 May and in Northern Ireland until 24 May at the earliest.
What is the political reaction?
This latest lockdown easing is the last act of the current Welsh Labour government before Thursday’s Welsh Parliament election.
Mark Drakeford said he can “allow more elements of normal life to return” because of a “successful” vaccination programme and an “improving public health situation.”
“However, the virus has not gone away,” the first minister added, warning people to continue to wash hands regularly, wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces, follow social distancing rules and “limit the number of people we meet socially outdoors.”
“By working together, by following these rules, the quicker we will return to normality,” he added.
An easing of rules so gyms could reopen and people could form an extended household was due to happen on 17 May but was brought forward on 9 April.
Welsh Conservative Senedd leader Andrew RT Davies called this “a last-minute and cynical sop just days before the election.”
“People up and down Wales will be relieved that Labour is at last following the data,” he said.
“But as the Welsh Conservatives have advocated, this could have come sooner and not as a last-minute and cynical sop just days before the election.
“On Thursday, people across Wales have an opportunity to end these political games and can turn the page on 22 years of Labour holding back our country and our economy.”
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Plaid Cymru paid tribute to the “collective effort” of the people of Wales for the latest rule easing.
“It is thanks to the collective effort of the people of Wales exemplified by the heroic vaccination rollout by our NHS staff that these relaxations are happening today,” said Plaid leader Adam Price.
“It remains the case that when further restrictions are eased that businesses must be supported with restart grants after an incredibly difficult start to the year.
“A Plaid Cymru government will provide Restart Grants of up to £20,000 to businesses in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors.”
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Date: 3 May 2021