Covid in Wales: Rules easing welcomed by sports clubs

Image source, Karl Johnson
Image caption,
And they're off... again, as Pontypridd parkrun resumes after an enforced break

Covid rules in Wales have eased, allowing up to 500 people to gather for outdoor events from Saturday.

The rule change has been welcomed by football clubs and the running charity parkrun.

Karl Johnson, of Pontypridd parkrun, said its benefits were both physical and mental, and "to have the event back up and running is a great relief to many".

The Welsh government said it hoped to remove all restrictions by 10 February.

'Raring to go'

Mr Johnson said after Saturday morning's event: "It was great to see our parkrun family back together today after a disappointing two-week break.

"Credit must go to our amazing band of volunteers who committed to our event at such short notice, 30 volunteers coming together within 16 hours is pretty impressive."

Since the group began, their highest turn out has been 491 people, with about 250 since previous lockdowns last year.

Before the run, Mr John assured entrants that limits would be adhered to.

"We've done everything we can to make sure people are safe, making sure people can spread out and limited contact when registering on site.

"It's been disappointing that we've had to cancel over the last two weeks, I know runners have gone over the border to other runs instead. However we're ready and raring to go now we can."

Along with parkrun restarting, rugby and football clubs can now host more spectators again.

Image caption,
Glesni Jones said crowd support made a big difference to the players on the field

It meant the likes of Clwb Rygbi Nant Conwy, based in Llanrwst, Conwy, could welcome more fans back to their Pant Carw ground for their league fixture against Bethesda on Saturday.

"The crowd support makes a big difference to the players on the field and it brings a sense of community back to the club," said chairperson Glesni Jones.

"It has been quite a struggle with the planning, preparation, loopholes sent to us and risk assessments, but it's brilliant to have everyone back."

Nerys Ellis, 70, whose husband was one of the club's founders and whose son plays for the team, said she was delighted to be back.

"The club means a lot to the community with children as young as seven, right up to the first team all enjoying themselves," she said.

Image source, Ynyshir Albions FC
Image caption,
Ynyshir Albions FC were able to welcome more crowds to their grounds on Saturday

Football club Ynyshir Albions faced Ton Pentre AFC at The Oval, Ynyshir, Rhondda Cynon Taf, in their first match of the year in the Ardal South West League.

Club treasurer Cei Mason said: "We're really pleased. Match day income is absolutely vital for us to be able to run the club.

"As the cost of running a grassroots club continues to rise, I'm sure many other clubs in Wales will feel the same way and will welcome this news," he added.

Speaking before the match, he said despite the changes they may not have the maximum capacity of 500 fans allowed.

"The news broke a little late for us to communicate the increased capacity to all our followers. We'd hoping to get back up those sort of numbers in the coming weeks," Mr Mason said.

Ahead of the game the club needed to make some changes to make sure safety rules such as social distancing was followed.

Mr Mason said: "We have opted to change into our kit at a location outside of the ground to give the away team the whole run of the building to adhere to social distance rules.

"It's not ideal but we're happy to accommodate to ensure the game goes ahead."

While sports clubs have welcomed the lifting of rules, it has seen a cautious welcome from some others.

Image caption,
Laura says she understands why rules are easing but says it does make her feel more anxious about contracting Covid

Student Laura Ann Moulding, 25, from Cardiff, was diagnosed with ME in January 2020 and has restricted her social contacts to her family and her boyfriend's family.

"I'm sticking to social bubbles as best as I can. I'm afraid of catching Covid because I'm quite vulnerable with my pre-existing condition," she said.

"I knew the restrictions were going to be eased some day, to return to some sort of normality again, but I still have overwhelming anxiety that I'm going to catch something, then I could be 10 times worse.

"I'm pleased to see more people but that fear doesn't subside. I know a lot of people like myself who still feel vulnerable. Even going to the grocery shop it's quite fearful."

Image source, Royal College of Physicians
Image caption,
Dr Olwen Williams said the Royal College of Physicians in Wales welcomed the phased manner of the changes

The Royal College of Physicians in Wales also believes now is the right time for a phased easing of restrictions.

Vice-president Olwen Williams said: "The winter is always a very difficult time within medicine, acute medicine and in the community.

"We went into the pandemic with a reduced number of doctors and healthcare staff which would have been a challenge in itself.

"But for two years in a row, having to cope with both the winter winter pressures, the backlog from planned care, but also Covid, it has been quite challenging.

"We are all very tired, we all look forward to some relief to get on with training and actually delivering the best care we can for our patients."

Image source, Pontypridd Parkrun
Image caption,
Parkrun said it would ensure events stick to the 500-runner limit

The easing of rules will also mean that the Six Nations rugby tournament can be held in front of a full Principality Stadium.

Ms Williams said: "As regards large sporting events, we did have four events in the autumn and there was not a considerable rise directly from them.

"People are quite sensible and you know they will have limited contact. Of course people can actually wear masks and keep a safe distance when they're attending the events and that's really very important still."

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