What next for Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr and Newport?

On September 22, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport all went into local lockdown.

Three weeks on and it is still unknown as to when restrictions will be lifted.

And with Prime Minister Boris Johnson setting out the three-tier strategy which sees areas in England labelled as medium, high or very high risk – will Wales follow?

Merthyr Tydfil currently has the highest rate of infections in Wales with 205.5 cases per 100,000 people based on a rolling seven-day average, down from 220.5 on Sunday.

But what do people in Merthyr Tydfil think about the local lockdown?

One of the problems with the local lockdown is the lack footfall in the area.

Matthew Sutton, 26, who owns travel agents Travel with Matthew said they have been lucky people have been able to holiday within the UK, but says business has still been difficult.

They have been trading in Merthyr since March 2019, so he has seen a big change this year.

He said: “It has been hard. Personally I just feel the government support hasn’t been there for small businesses, and the things they are bringing out they are bringing out too late.

“It has been difficult.”

Is a second local lockdown working?

Speaking about the recent local lockdown, he added: “Its been very quiet. Footfall through town is quite low. People are following the guidelines more now.

“We are seeing a lot more people wearing masks. People now know from the first lockdown what to expect. Cases are rising in Wales.”

Chris Jones, 49, has owned the Pet and Garden Centre in Merthyr for 34 years and has worked throughout the pandemic.

He doesn’t see the point in a local lockdown continuing.

Speaking at the shop, he said: “It’s a lot quieter than it was in April and May.

“I have found there is a lot less people in town. I don’t think we should be having a local lockdown.

“I think we have passed the point of no return. I think we have to get to the point where we are getting on with normal life.”

Chris said he can understand the old and vulnerable needing to stay in and be protected, but he thinks a sense of normality needs to return.

He added: “The government and councils haven’t got a bottomless pit of money. I’m more concerned about watching people’s businesses decline around me.

“Shops at the retail park will be gone after Christmas – they rely on Christmas more than the little shops.”

June Matthews, 62, visited town to go to the bank on Monday afternoon.

She said: “I think a lot of small businesses are really struggling.

“My niece works in a beauty salon and business is tough because people are not going out. And there’s the weather and the dark nights – I go out walking in the evening with my dogs.

“We are restricted where we can go. It impacts a lot of things such as mental health.”

In Blaenau Gwent, the number of cases in the borough continue to decline since lockdown measures were enforced.

Danielle Davies, 24, has worked in the Cambrian pub in Tredegar alongside her colleague Claire Brooker for four years now, but said she feels like there is no end in sight for the lockdown rules in Blaenau Gwent.

She said: “It’s really hard to see an end to this at the moment because every time the rules ease the virus will just spread again and cause us to go in to more lockdowns.

“Like a lot of people in Tredegar I am very frustrated, and worried that it will cause serious damage to the business, as well as the mental health of local residents long term.”

Helen Phillips from Tredegar has found the second lockdown much harder than the first due to what she describes as lockdown fatigue.

She said: “A lot of people here are really fed up with it now due to fatigue I think, and it is very hard for people to accept having these kind of restrictions when there’s no time frame for when they’re going to end.

“Summer seemed to be easier as you could go out for a walk or sit in the garden but with the weather getting worse, any further lockdowns will be much harder for people who have to isolate or stay close to home.

“It’s had a big effect on the town as well as it’s gone incredibly quiet at the moment, and doing any shopping can be quite difficult.

“That said you’d be very brave to open a new shop anywhere at the moment, particularly in the locked down boroughs of Wales.”

John Barkway, 61, travels to Tredegar from Cwmfelinfach in Caerphilly where he works in a local card shop, and thinks the worst part for those currently situated in locked down boroughs is not knowing how long the fight against the pandemic will last.

He said: “At the moment we’re looking down a dark tunnel and it seems like there’s no light at the end.

“If we go in to a total lockdown again it could be a total disaster for businesses here and the effect it will have on people’s moral will be even worse. 

“The local lockdowns so far just seem like trail and error from the Welsh government but when you’re the ones on that trial it can be very hard.

“So far I think people are trying really hard to follow the advice, but sadly as time goes on I think that could change for the worse.” 

Jamie Smith, 37, of Ebbw Vale visited Tredegar to do his shopping earlier today, and says he is outraged at the thought of rolling lockdowns in the coming months.

He said: “I know the virus is still quite prevalent here in Blaenau Gwent but at the same time I don’t think we should stay on lockdown any more.

“There’s so little room for error that the people who are exempt from the rules are enough to spread it, and we’re all going to have to get on with our lives at some point.

“I think we should definitely continue with the distancing measures and using masks and hand wash as well as  making sure we have a greater awareness of the virus, but at this point I feel further lockdowns will cause more harm than good so we should just get on with it.”

Amandeep Wraich, 37, has owned AJ’s convenience store on Tredegar high street for a little over two years and says the Autumn and winter months could be particularly difficult for the people of Tredegar if restrictions continue.

He said: “We’ve been living under these restrictions for a number of months now and honestly I don’t know if we’re any better off.

“I think the advice from the Welsh and British government has been quite conflicting up until this point with regards to the distancing measures, and moving forward toward Christmas I think it’s going to be even harder for people to follow.

“It’s hard and I think people are fed up, but ultimately we just have to get on with it now.”

Over in Newport, people in the area are worried about the impact the lockdown will have on the city centre.

Jane Jones

Jane Jones, 71, lives in Liswerry but makes sure she comes into the city centre at least once a week. She said she is worried about Newport city centre and the rate at which local shops are shutting.

“I do worry, it’s always hanging over you. I worry about my grandkids,” she said.

She recently lost her husband and said she finds it difficult not to see her family properly, both now during Newport’s local lockdown and earlier on in the year when the whole of the UK was in lockdown.

“They’ve dropped food on my doorstep but it’s not the same is it?”

However, even though she has found lockdown difficult, Jane said that it is worthwhile if it is helping to stop the spread of the virus.

Alan Edwards owns fish and chip shop Vacara’s

Alan Edwards, 72, owns fish and chip shop Vacara’s. He said that when he sees people still not following the rules it makes him think that a lockdown is still a good idea. However, the impact of the local on business in the past few weeks has been clear to see.

“Trade has dropped off. We were okay with the restaurant opening on August 3, and we thought ‘this is okay.’ Even though I was only operating 50% of the restaurant, we had days when we were filling it up. But since the local lockdown, everything has dropped back to about a third of our normal business.”

Alan believes this is due to the fact that customers from the Valleys, in places like Risca and Blackwood, can’t come down, as well as other customers from Cwmbran and Cardiff.

Emma Calvid

Emma Calvid, 37, is from Newport and works as a theatre assistant at the Royal Gwent Hospital. During the peak of the virus, she worked in ICU treating coronavirus patients, and believes that if more people knew about the serious impact of the virus, they would take more precautions.

“This is actually a pandemic that we’re in, and people need to take it a bit more seriously.”

The 37-year-old said that she believes the local lockdown in Newport hasn’t really changed the way people are behaving, and she still sees people not taking the threat seriously enough.

As someone who has worked in a coronavirus ward, she thinks that if people could see what actually happened when patients end up in ICU, as well as the wider effect on people out in the community, they might reconsider how they feel.

But she also doesn’t see the impact of Covid going away any time soon.

“I think it’s something that we’re going to have to learn that we’ll have to live with for a while. As much as I do believe in lockdown… I don’t think this is going to go away.”

There has been an increase in the coronavirus rate in Bridgend recently.

Bridgend town centre

Gareth and Carol Jones from Bridgend both don’t agree with the lockdown in the area.

“I think the lockdown should be targeted at the vulnerable more. I’m not sure if the lockdown is working.

“The biggest difficulty for me has been not being able to see my grandchildren,” Gareth said.

While Carol added: “I absolutely don’t agree with the lockdown. Let the young people get out and the students enjoy themselves.

“I think this lockdown has been psychologically worse as people are thinking “what’s next”.”

Natalia Bebenek is a waitress at Dragon Cafe

Natalia Bebenek is a waitress at Dragon Cafe. The 21-year-old believes that the second lockdown has been pointless.

“With the 10pm curfew people are just going out earlier. Usually it would be packed in here.

“I have had my hours cut down. I still have to pay rent. I would be really upset if we went into another full lockdown. I would rather more restrictions than to go into a full lockdown,” she said.

Courtney Rich

Courtney Rich, aged 23, from Bridgend believes that the lockdown hasn’t been very good on people’s mental health.

“I do agree with the system they are doing but it’s quite difficult because in different circumstances with certain ages, people are doing things differently.

“I think the lockdown’s worked but I also think it hasn’t been very good on some people’s mental health.

“I don’t think there’s enough people having help with mental health which is a big priority.

“Me as a single mum, I am in a bubble I can see my parents but even then it’s still very lonely and I’m struggling to go shopping and if we have a complete lockdown, will I still be able to have the help of child care, will I be able to work” she said.

Phil Fishwick

Tracy Fishwick

Couple Phil and Tracy Fishwick say that people are not sticking to the rules that are in place.

Phil said: “I see a lot of people they don’t adhere to the rules and that causes problems which is why they have been set in place. It isn’t fair as it’s set up to protect all of us.

“The lockdown will only work if people adhere to it. The majority are. But people are still having parties which they shouldn’t.

While Tracy believes that it would be better if Wales followed the same traffic light approach as England.

She added: “I think it will be better if they did do it in a way as it will stop people from mixing. I don’t think the lockdown is working in Bridgend.”

WalesOnline – Wales News