News in brief: Calls for government to withdraw face covering guidance for schools
Plaid Cymru has asked the government to withdraw the guidance on wearing face coverings in schools that was issued yesterday.
The use of masks is now being recommended indoors where social distancing cannot be maintained, including on school transport, for people from the age of 11 upwards. But Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services and Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education said they were not mandating their use in schools, saying instead that schools must assess their own circumstances and students’ before making a decision.
The leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price MS, has written to First Minister Mark Drakeford to call for clearer directions to be issued to schools and to provide “the national leadership that our educational community in Wales is searching for.”
In his letter, Mr Price points out that the Labour party’s education spokesperson in Westminster called out Boris Johnson for “passing the buck” to teachers on face coverings, saying that the “government should have given clear guidance and a plan to deliver it.” Mr Price calls for that same clear direction to now be issued by the Welsh Government, rather than “passing the buck” to schools.
The Plaid Cymru leader also called for clarity on when face coverings should be worn in school corridors and communal areas, in classrooms where social distancing cannot be maintained for a sustained period, and when travelling to and from school.
“There is considerable concern and unease in the educational community in Wales as a result of the approach taken by the Welsh Government in relation to face coverings,” Mr Price said.
“The Welsh Government’s hands-off approach will mean that individual schools and individual local authorities will be left on their own to determine their own criteria. The Welsh Government has also been silent on what guidance applies to primary schools.
“This seems incompatible with the partnership approach – working together to Keep Wales Safe – that has led to some of the best results in the response to Covid-19 in Wales.
“It is of course the role of government at a national level, drawing on all the resource at its disposal – including, crucially, public health and medical expertise – to create policy to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our educational community across the length and breadth of Wales.
“I have therefore written to the First Minister, urging him to withdraw this guidance and to re-issue clear directions providing the national leadership that our educational community in Wales is searching for.”
The Welsh Conservative have also criticised the guidance. Suzy Davies MS, Shadow Minister for Education, said the guidance “is the worst of both worlds” and accused the government of “putting the responsibility on the shoulders of schools and councils, while trying to absolve itself of responsibility for the decision.”
“The government here in Wales should have shown leadership – which it has not – and it should have issued definitive guidance,” she added.
“Many students and their parents are naturally going to be a little apprehensive by the return to school after so long, and into what will be a very different environment and need reassurance.
“They have not been given it.”
There has been one further death due to coronavirus in the last 24 hours, according to the latest Public Health Wales report. The total number of people who have died with Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic is now 1,595.
PHW has confirmed 35 new cases, taking the total number of confirmed infections in Wales to 17,843. people have now tested positive. There were 5,194 tests carried out on Wednesday.
Government agrees deal for high-speed Covid-19 testing machines
The Welsh Governments has agreed a deal to buy hundreds of new high-speed Covid-19 testing machines.
The machines, that deliver results in just 12 minutes, are designed for use in remote areas and by mobile clinics.
They were given fast-track authorisation by the US government’s federal drugs administration last week.
Test results are uploaded to a cloud-based database allowing results to be shared immediately with health officials involved in tracking cases
The Welsh Government has confirmed it is involved in the project along with the Scottish Government and has signed a contract for up to 400 machines and 450,000 tests, subject to their validation.
The Scottish government has announced it is buying 300 of the machines, and is hoping to have the first 30, supplied by the London-based life sciences company LumiraDx, in operation next month, once validation by NHS officials is completed.
Lib Dems in Wales welcome election of new party leader
Welsh Liberal Democrats have welcomed the election of Ed Davey as the new leader of the UK party.
Davey, who has been acting leader since the general election last year, beat his rival, Layla Moran, by 42,756 votes to 24,564.
He will be the party’s fourth leader in five years and replaces Jo Swinson who stepped down following the election after losing her seat to the SNP.
“Ed is a friend of Wales understands our nation, our traditions and crucially devolution and the importance of the Senedd elections next year. With more and more people joining our party we have a renewed sense of optimism for the future, something in stark contrast to Boris’ bungled handling of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Welsh Lib Dem Leader Jane Dodds said.
“Ed has championed the cause of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon which could generate renewable power for 150,000 homes as well as in recent weeks lead the campaign against the carers Covid bonus being taxed.”
Education Minister Kirsty Williams, the only member of the party in the Senedd added: “I’ve known Ed for many years, and he is liberal and compassionate to his core. He is a remarkable campaigner and a someone of the utmost integrity and conviction, who has run an energising and professional campaign. I look forward to working with him.”