A small village has been left divided by the local lockdown in Caerphilly after half the community was forced into heavy restrictions while those on the other side of the river continued with their daily lives.
The River Ebbw marks a dividing line in the village of Aberbeeg, with residents on one side living in Blaenau Gwent and the other side in Caerphilly.
It’s left most feeling uncertain and confused as they rearrange their businesses and social lives around the new coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Tougher measures were brought into Caerphilly at 6pm on Tuesday.
It came after a huge spike in coronavirus infections in the area – sandwiched between Glamorgan and Monmouthshire – with 133 new cases in the last week.
The River Ebbw marks a dividing line in the village of Aberbeeg (pictured), as on one side residents live in Blaenau Gwent and the other side in Caerphilly
Health minister Vaughan Gething said Caerphilly County Borough will be locked down until October ‘at the very least’.
It means the more than 180,000 residents who live in the former medieval kingdom will be cut off from the rest of the country for weeks and potentially months.
Childminder Clare Wilkinson runs her business Bobl Bach Clare from her home on Pendarren Road in Aberbeeg.
She lives in the borough of Blaenau Gwent, so has not been put into lockdown, but is on the border with the Caerphilly and faces the uncertainty of caring for many children who are under increased restrictions.
For the last few days she has been desperately seeking clarification about whether she is able to carry on as normal and accept her clients from over the border.
Childminder Clare Wilkinson (pictured) runs her business Bobl Bach Clare from her home on Pendarren Road in Aberbeeg
She said: ‘There’s very little guidance, I’ve had no-one to call to ask questions. It’s quite a scary time for me.
‘It already has had an impact on me to the point where some parents are no longer employed and no longer need childcare. Some have sought support from friends and family.’
It’s not just her business that was affected – two of her three children get a bus from Caerphilly to go to high school 16 miles away in Crickhowell in the county of Powys.
Ms Wilkinson, who now spends one day each week deep cleaning, said: ‘I had parents to get through to on Monday to work out whether they were still happy for their children to attend the setting.
‘A lot of children live in Blaenau Gwent and obviously my house is situated on the border of Caerphilly.
‘I am doing school runs across the different schools at six different times so my school run this morning took me an hour and a half.’
Next door to Ms Wilkinson, 78-year-old grandfather Glyn Elsey is spending his retirement working on a detailed model ship – after he was once again banned from visiting his family.
Living metres from the boundary, he can’t visit areas of the village only minutes away without a reasonable excuse.
As of 6pm on Tuesday residents were told they would have to wear a face mask inside shops and can’t visit other households.
Next door to Ms Wilkinson, 78-year-old grandfather Glyn Elsey (pictured) is spending his retirement working on a detailed model ship – after he was once again banned from visiting his family
Mr Elsey said: ‘My youngest daughter had a child on February 29 and we have had to stop visiting her. We didn’t see the child for three-and-a-half months and now we have gone to see her two or three times.’
He also won’t see his son who works in the Royal Navy because the village has been locked down.
And his church in Abertillery is now off-limits, making it impossible to go to an up-coming funeral there.
For Mr Elsey the lockdown announcement on Monday came as little surprise after what he described as a lack of social distancing in shops, roads and on the news.
It means that while he has been busy arranging for scaffolding to be put up at the back of his house, his builder from Blaenau Gwent can’t come and start the job modifying part of the chimney.
He added: ‘You have to walk around people in the road sometimes but they don’t seem to be bothered with it. That’s not only young people, it’s older people too.’
At the end of Pendarren Road, Bryn Jenkins, 69, was clearing his hedge cuttings on his own after his helper was banned from travelling over from Cwmcarn.
Mr Jenkins said: ‘The lockdown has impacted me immediately. The help I was expecting this morning to cut my hedge couldn’t come from over the border so I’ve had to carry on on my own. It’s fair enough but it’s nice to have help.’
At the end of Pendarren Road, Bryn Jenkins (pictured), 69, was clearing his hedge cuttings on his own after his helper was banned from travelling over from Cwmcarn
Bryn said he and his wife, who is disabled, have remained at home over lockdown and have food delivered to the house.
His life, and the area he walks in, all revolves around the Caerphilly side of Aberbeeg, he said.
‘If people are being sensible now then that’s good to hear. People stopped being cautious, got comfortable and a bit lackadaisical with it, hence we have got a second lockdown.
‘People have got to start to realise this is a plague, it’s a brutal virus that leaves people in a shocking state.’
Despite being split down the middle, it’s not just Aberbeeg thrown into a difficult situation with the new rules.
Two miles down the A467 to Llanhilleth, and businesses are suffering too despite being in the borough of Blaenau Gwent.
In between deliveries, Gareth Short, of Short’s Butchers, said: ‘Business was really good but now lockdown has lifted it’s gone quiet.
‘I’ve got customers out of the borough, out of Blaenau Gwent, I just don’t know what’s going to happen. They come from Newbridge, Oakdale, Trinant, Risca.
Two miles down the A467 to Llanhilleth, and businesses are suffering too despite being in the borough of Blaenau Gwent
‘I take orders to people, to customers, but this week I’ve not had an order at all. It’s knocked a lot of people, this Covid.’
Next door Mr Short’s nephew Ashley Trow runs his salon The Hair Lounge.
Like many of his clients he lives across the borough in Cwmfelinfach but travels to Blaenau Gwent for work.
It’s his biggest fear that local lockdown may see stricter measures imposed, stopping him from commuting across.
Ashley said: ‘We have been shut for six, seven months so it has had a massive financial impact on everyone so we need to make sure everything stays the same.
‘I have got a lot of people from Caerphilly that do come to the business so lockdown would probably financially impact us.
‘As I’ve said on social media and emails sent to Caerphilly residents, if you have got an appointment that needs to be rescheduled in October we will try to sort it out.
‘I live in Caerphilly so I just need to be extra careful about what I do and who I speak to. I don’t want it to be a lockdown permanently where they say you can’t go to work properly and I’d have to shut.’
In between deliveries, Gareth Short (pictured), of Short’s Butchers, said: ‘Business was really good but now lockdown has lifted it’s gone quiet’
Speaking about the previous lockdown, Ashely said government grants were useful but didn’t go the whole way.
He said: ‘Bills still had to be paid, I went to work in Asda in Blackwood doing to keep the business ticking over otherwise I didn’t know where we would be.’
The health minister Mr Gething told BBC Radio Wales the Covid rate is ‘expected to rise’ after community testing on Saturday showed a positivity rate of 4 per cent.
He said: ‘Even a week ago, we comfortably had the lowest rate of coronavirus of any of the UK nations.
‘We’re now in a position, a week later, where we’ve seen a significant spike in activity.
‘That shows that coronavirus, over the course of a couple of weeks, can build up very quickly.
‘If we don’t address the issue in Caerphilly, we’ll see wider community transmission within the Caerphilly area, but that will spread to other areas as well.
‘The reasons for the local lockdown are a spike in transmission that, if left unaddressed, will go out of control.
Mr Short’s nephew Ashley Trow (pictured) runs his salon The Hair Lounge. Like many of his clients he lives across the borough in Cwmfelinfach but travels to Blaenau Gwent for work
‘We’ll see more people get it, we’ll see more people go into hospitals, being seriously unwell, and it will then have national consequences.’
Mr Gething said a ‘significant cause’ of the virus spreading was a lack of social distancing, with people socialising in each other’s households in larger numbers.
He told the BBC pubs and bars would remain open in the Caerphilly area, as significant transmission is not taking place there.
The lockdown measures, which are being enforced by the local authority and police, will be reviewed every couple of weeks.
Mr Gething said: ‘But the evidence and advice that I’ve had from our scientific and medical advisers is that we’re unlikely to see a significant change until two to three weeks, to see the impact these measures are having.
‘So we’re in it for several weeks, at least in Caerphilly.’
Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire in the west of Scotland saw new restrictions imposed, with a similar clampdown for Caerphilly county in south Wales on Tuesday at 6pm
Asked if that meant the local lockdown would remain in the area until October, Mr Gething replied: ‘Yes, at the very least – I can’t overstate the seriousness of the position that we’re in.’
Community testing was introduced in Caerphilly over the weekend, with 450 people tested on Saturday. Of these, 19 had the virus.
A similar number of people were tested on Sunday, with results expected shortly.
Travel restrictions included in the lockdown mean people cannot enter or leave Caerphilly County Borough Council area without a ‘reasonable excuse’.
Excuses might include work, making a compassionate visit to a loved one or to provide care.
Residents descended on the high street and filled car parks and shops during an 11th-hour dash to get goods before the new restrictions at 6pm on Tuesday
People will only be allowed to meet others outdoors, with indoor meetings and gatherings restricted.
Caerphilly Council has already introduced measures such as suspending care home visits, and introducing weekly testing for care home staff, in response to the increase in cases.
On Monday, Public Health Wales reported the highest number of positive Covid-19 cases in months.
It said that a further 133 people had tested positive for coronavirus, representing the highest daily figure since June 27, when 140 cases were reported.
There were no further deaths in people with coronavirus, with the total in Wales since the beginning of the pandemic remaining at 1,597.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething (pictured) told BBC Radio Wales the rate is ‘expected to rise’ after community testing in the area on Saturday showed a positivity rate of 4 per cent
Numerous schools have been affected by coronavirus since the start of the autumn term, including one class of 21 pupils at a primary school in the Caerphilly area being told to self-isolate for 14 days.
Professor Van-Tam said the public had ‘relaxed too much’ over the summer and described the rising number of cases as of ‘great concern’.
There were a further 2,948 lab-confirmed cases of the virus in the UK as of 9am on Monday, following the 2,988 reported on Sunday – the largest daily figure since May.
In an interview with journalists, Prof Van-Tam said: ‘This is a big change. It’s now consistent over two days and it’s of great concern at this point.
‘We’ve been able to relax a bit over the summer, the disease levels have been really quite low in the UK through the summer but these latest figures really show us that much as people might like to say ‘oh well it’s gone away’ – this hasn’t gone away.
There have been 133 new Covid-19 cases in Caerphilly county borough over the past seven days, equivalent to a rate of 55.4 cases per 100,000 population
‘And if we’re not careful, if we don’t take this incredibly seriously from this point in we’re going to have a bumpy ride over the next few months.’
He said that the rise is ‘much more marked’ in the 17-21 age group, but noted there is a ‘more general and creeping geographic trend’ across the UK.
‘People have relaxed too much,’ Prof Van-Tam said. ‘Now is the time for us to re-engage and realise that this is a continuing threat to us.’
He urged politicians and public health officials to think how to manage the crisis not in the short term but through ‘the next six months and how we get through this until the spring’.
The professor added it was ‘clear’ that the level of compliance with restrictions ‘is very variable indeed’.