The timetable for ending coronavirus restrictions in England is “at the very optimistic end of the spectrum”, Wales’ first minister has said.
Mark Drakeford said he wanted to be realistic and warned Wales was not likely to return to normality in 2021.
Boris Johnson has set out a timetable for legal restrictions to be lifted entirely in England by 21 June.
A UK government spokeswoman said the road map was intended to be “cautious but irreversible”.
Mr Drakeford said: “I want to be honest and realistic with people in Wales, rather than simply trying to paint the most optimistic picture that I can.
“I think some of the suggestions that the UK government are making seem to be at the very optimistic end of the spectrum and not fully to take into account the advice we are having of the risks that will still be with us in the rest of this calendar year.”
Mr Drakeford told BBC Wales that dealing with the virus was “a long haul” but “I certainly hope by the summer that life will be a lot closer to normal than it has been over the winter”.
“But do I think that means that everything will be over, that there’ll be no dangers, no risks to people, hospitals completely free of coronavirus? That’s not the advice that I get from our chief medical officer.”
He said he did not ever expect to see the virus “gone completely”.
But he said Wales, as a result of lockdown and vaccinations, was getting closer than ever to “a point where coronavirus is a condition that we are managing and, crucially, we are managing it in a way that does not run the risk of it all catching fire again and putting us back into the difficulties we’ve had to experience in the last 12 months”.
“That’s the point that I want to get to.”
Welsh Conservative Senedd group leader Andrew RT Davies has repeated his call for a road map out of lockdown.
“Scotland has a roadmap. England has a road map. Wales has nothing,” he said.
“We’ve made great strides in recent months bearing down on the virus with our exceptional vaccination programme and this is making that return to normality look possible – and after a year, we all need a little cautious optimism and some hope.”
Surge in mortality rate during the second wave
Looking back over the way his government has handled the crisis, the first minister said the reason for the surge in Covid-related deaths in Wales during the second wave was because “dealing with the virus in the conditions of the winter was even more challenging than we had expected”.
The vast majority of deaths involving coronavirus have occurred since September and the Welsh Covid mortality rate for the duration of the pandemic up to the end of January was above the UK average, but lower than the rate in England.
Mr Drakeford said Wales had “a torrid time” over the winter but “the Welsh government has acted all the way through to save as many lives as we can, taking difficult decisions in order to do that”.
As Covid indicators became increasingly serious, the first minister announced on 19 December that he was locking down for a third time, leading to long queues outside toy shops as people tried to get presents for Christmas before shops had to close.
‘We were struggling to convince people’
Mr Drakeford rejected criticism that he was too slow to bring in the lockdown in December – a month where, at some points, Wales had some of the highest case rates in the world.
“I think that is to be wise after the event. All the pressure at the time was not to do what we did. We were the first part of the United Kingdom to go into lockdown.
“And I vividly remember the criticism that we came under at the time, not because we had not done things too quickly, but because we were struggling to convince people that it was necessary to do all the things that we believe were necessary at the time.”
Plaid Cymru’s leader Adam Price said: “The first minister speaks of the benefit of hindsight. Indeed, there is much to learn from the past year.
“But we cannot only look backwards we must look forwards – to a Wales that isn’t subject to the whims of Westminster, a Wales that would source its own testing and PPE, and a Wales that would protect all sectors of its economy.”
The Welsh Liberal Democrats’ leader Jane Dodds called for a public inquiry as soon as possible.
“Mistakes and the lack of preparedness need to be addressed in public inquiry which I hope can start straight after the election,” she said.
“The priority now must be to avoid any new wave of infections and ensure that everyone is vaccinated as quickly and safely as possible.”
A UK government spokeswoman said: “Our successful vaccination rollout is continuing – all adults over 50 and those who are clinically vulnerable will be offered their first dose by mid-April, and all adults by the end of July.
“At each stage, we will be guided by data, not dates, as moving too fast, too soon risks a resurgence in infections, hospitalisations and deaths.”