Boris Johnson’s plans to ease the UK lockdown are likely to be in line with Wales, which would result in only modest changes such as the reopening of garden centres and libraries, and a relaxation of exercise rules, the Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, said on Saturday.
Drakeford said the prime minister’s announcement for England would be in line with the very smallest easing granted in Wales.
The first minister said the transmission rate allowed only a very modest easing to permit more than one form of exercise per day, and for garden centres and libraries to reopen. “My view is we’ll be very much in line with one another,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Our new regime won’t come in until Monday, so we’ll move in a timely way together across the UK and I still think that is very much a preferable route.”
Schools in Wales will not reopen to the majority of pupils until June, he added.
Johnson is expected to take a cautious approach on Sunday, with official figures putting the UK death toll at more than 36,000. Plans to quarantine people entering the UK for 14 days and a move to building extra cycle lanes have also been leaked.
Johnson is expected to say garden centres can reopen from Wednesday as long as social distancing measures can be enforced.
The move will be welcomed by an industry devastated by the economic shutdown during its prime trading season. Retailers are preparing for a surge in plant and flower sales, which could help salvage a catastrophic year.
The UK’s 2,000 garden centres and nurseries had to close in March because they were not deemed essential stores. This forced retailers to lose a substantial amount of the 70% of sales the sector records in spring and growers to throw away millions of plants.
Research for the Horticultural Trades Association last month found that, even with help in form of financial aid packages, a third of businesses are likely to be insolvent by the end of the year.
About 13% of the ornamental growers who responded to the poll said they would be out of business by the end of June.
Store owners will be responsible for ensuring social distancing rules are adhered to by shoppers, who will have to keep a distance of two metres from others. It is likely that shoppers will only be allowed to enter centres in controlled numbers, a policy already in place in supermarkets.
Cleaning stations for baskets and trolleys, outdoor queuing systems and one-way aisles could limit contact between customers and staff. Perspex screens installed at staffed tills and self-checkouts could also help garden centres implement the required distancing restrictions.
Cafes or playgrounds that are part of the stores will not be able to reopen.
Although many of Britain’s 23 million gardeners will be delighted by the news, others have questioned whether garden centres should be given priority while many other parts of life remain under lockdown.
A senior government source told PA Media: “Garden centres typically open large open-air spaces where the risk of transmission of coronavirus is lower. With strict social distancing measures in place we believe they can open safely from next week.”
While allowing garden centres to reopen is part of measures that aim to gradually revive the economy, the environment secretary, George Eustice, said at the daily briefing on Friday expectations about a wholesale lifting of lockdown restrictions were misplaced. He stated that there “isn’t going to be any dramatic overnight change”.