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Groundhog day in Wales as country enters second-wave lockdown

Like the groundhog that peeks out and then retreats until winter is over, Wales has been forced back underground by the shadow of the coronavirus.

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Sebastian Shukla
CNN — Like the groundhog that peeks out and then retreats until winter is over, Wales has been forced back underground by the shadow of the coronavirus.

Friday nights are usually heady and vibrant in the Welsh capital; its people are famous for being fiercely proud and incredibly hospitable.

Cardiff, then, is a good place to welcome the weekend.

At least, it was, until Friday, October 23, when Wales rolled back the clock to March 2020 to start a second national lockdown.

Go your own way

In line with devolved powers, Wales does not have to fall in line with the directives of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It can plot its own course - as Scotland and Northern Ireland are doing, too.

Johnson's government in London has resisted imposing a second UK-wide measures, instead opting for regional lockdown in England, like those seen in hotspots in Manchester and Liverpool.

Wales has been hit hard by a second wave of Covid-19 and officials are struggling to control the outbreak.

A recent study for the Welsh government has even suggested that the virus may have spread from areas of northwest England to areas of northern Wales. Those counties are now recording some of the largest spikes in figures across Wales

Local restrictions failed to stem the rise in infections. In total Wales has reported 41,577 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, as of 42,681.

A short, sharp "firebreak"

On October 23, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford imposed what he called a "firebreak" lockdown -- a stringent two-week period during which almost everyone is required to stay at home.

"It is about time someone took the bull by the horns and got on with it and locked us down for 16 days," Chris Francis told CNN as the minutes ticked by before the new restrictions came in.

Under the new rules in Wales, pubs, bars, restaurants, gyms and all non-essential shops have been forced to close. However, takeaway and deliveries are still possible. People have been told to stay at home and only leave for essential food, medication or to take exercise among other limited exceptions.

Drakeford told CNN the set of national restrictions was based on scientific advice and that a "short but deep period of restrictions that will interrupt the virus and break the chains of transmission is the best hope we have to get things back on track and have a path between here to Christmas."

Reading, PlayStation and movies with the boys

Queen Street in central Cardiff is a typical high street seen up and down the British Isles. There is a Starbucks, a Pizza Hut, a local pub and a discount store called Poundland.

But on this Friday evening one of the largest queues is outside McDonald's.

Will Thomas, 20 and Sam Younis, 21, both students from Cardiff University, emerged clutching their final McFlurry desserts for the next fortnight.

The pair's views on the lockdown are surprising, given their age cohort's poor reputation in Britain for adhering to Covid-19 restrictions.

"I think it is definitely needed. I think we should definitely stay inside for two weeks. We should keep low and just wait it out," Thomas said.

Younis was equally optimistic about the weeks ahead. "I'll just catch up on work that got away from us, do a bit more reading, play a bit of PlayStation," he said. "It is going to be good fun, few movies with the boys, not much else to do is there?"

But for some, like Amy, a civil servant who declined to give her full name, and a self-confessed "indoorsy-type," being at home isn't going to change her life much. She'll be watching Netflix and playing video games as usual.

Amy has been working from home since the first lockdown in March but her main concern is for the economy. "My fear is the worry about how it is going to impact small business and the economy," she told CNN.

"I'm scared especially for the people losing their jobs. It is going to affect all the little businesses; I can see little shops closing and not getting customers."

Will the lockdown work?

Jonathan Pangelli, the manager of 39 Desserts, a shop that specializes in pancakes, waffles and ice creams, fears his business may not survive. The shop survived the first lockdown but Pangelli believes the second one could be fatal.

"We are a new business and we built up our reputation and then we have to tell our customers 'no, go away see you in three months.' We are lucky we had loyal customers who came back," he said.

Pangelli struck a pessimistic tone. He said: "This didn't work the first time, why is it going to work the second time? The business has got all the things in place: sanitizer, social distancing, we wash our hands every 10 minutes, why can't we serve customers safely? And the companies that are not [taking those precautions], close them!"

As 6 p.m. approached on Friday, Susan, a healthcare support worker who also declined to give her full name, told CNN passionately about why people needed to stay home. "We are a race of people and we have to look after each other," she said.

"We saw the devastation first time and we don't want to go down that road again. It's only until November."

Standing under the statue of the founder of the British National Health Service, Aneurin Bevan, Susan poignantly added: "It's not much to sacrifice when people are sacrificing their lives in the health service looking after the older generation. You don't want to lose your life -- be sensible."

So, like the groundhog, Wales peeked its head out of hibernation, hoping the umbra of coronavirus would be gone, yet what it saw was the coronavirus shadow still stalking it.

The only option, then, was to return to the den.

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