SAGE member complains about Wales being treated as a ‘single entity’ during pandemic
A member of SAGE has complained about Wales being treated as a “single entity” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, which has been providing advice to support UK cross-government decisions in the Cabinet Office Briefing Room, in Whitehall, throughout the crisis, claimed that it was “not epidemiologically correct.”
Wales has had control of its own Covid laws during the pandemic but, according to the scientist, it would have been better for parts of the country to be aligned on policy with areas of England.
According YouGov, the approach of the Welsh Government to tackling the pandemic is backed by 60% in Wales, with only 17% preferring the approach taken by the UK Government in England.
The same survey suggests that English are split over whether the approach taken in Wales or England to deal with the pandemic is the best.
It shows that 32% of the English population prefer the approach taken in England by the UK Government, only marginally ahead of those who prefer the approach taken in Wales, at 31%.
The SAGE member told The Times: “If we lived in a world without politics, then one would treat the island of Ireland as a single entity as far as decision-making is concerned.
They added: “If you are going to make different policies within Great Britain, then treat London as separate. South Wales is most closely linked to Bristol and north Wales most closely linked to northwest England — treating Wales as a single entity is not epidemiologically correct.”
Jess Sargeant, of the London-based think tank, Institute for Government, suggested that during this first phase of the pandemic there was “essentially joint decision making” between the devolved governments and Westminster, but that this broke down in May 2020 when Boris Johnson began loosening restrictions in England.
Mark Drakeford insisted on easing restrictions more slowly, which has led to tension between the Welsh Government and the UK Government.
‘Matter of timing’
Sargeant claimed: “A lot of it has been a matter of timing rather than fundamental differences in approach and often that was just a matter of a few weeks.”
“There’s a risk of confusion and undermining the logic of measures if you can’t understand why four parts of the UK dealing with the same problem have come to different decisions on how many people can meet. That can undermine compliance.
“There could have been more agreement on how many people you can meet and so on. It’s all operationalisation of the same scientific advice, it’s not a fundamental political disagreement.”
Sargeant also admitted that “all the devolved administrations compared to Westminster were a bit clearer in their communication and the stages of lockdown and when measures would be reviewed, which has contributed to the differentiation”.
However, she still argued that it would have been better to carry on with co-ordination to prevent situations where, for example, masks were optional on trains in England but became compulsory once they crossed into Wales.
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