The success of Wales’ new Covid-19 regulations will test England’s appetite for lockdown

The prohibition on travel into Wales from tier two and three areas in England will depend upon the public enforcing it themselves. 

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People who live in tier-two and tier-three areas in England – that is, areas that are classified as “high risk” and “very high risk” will be banned from travelling into Wales from Friday (16 October), the Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has announced.

It represents an eye-catching but comparatively small change in the existing regulations to aid enforcement. As it stands, people in tier-three areas of England are merely strongly advised not to travel outside of them. The government at Westminster contemplated, but ultimately did not go through with, measures to legally prohibit these movements, partly because of resistance to the idea within the Conservative Party, but more importantly because it is far from clear how this law would be enforced.

Many countries have introduced similar internal barriers but struggled to enforce them. In practice, these restrictions will only work if they are self-policed: that is to say, if people in tier-two and tier-three areas voluntarily opt to stay out of Wales, because there are only so many members of the British Transport Police. That speaks to the big question being neglected at Westminster: why is support for fresh lockdowns so high in both polls and focus groups, yet practical observance so low?

If the answer is that people simply can’t afford to observe a period of lockdown, then Wales’ new prohibitions, which will largely but not exclusively prevent leisure travel and well-paid commuters in Cheshire and Merseyside from entering Wales, may enjoy a greater level of adherence than existing measures. If the answer is something deeper, then Wales’ new regulations may have little effect.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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