Senedd roundup: First Minister defends COVID-19 testing failings
First Minister Mark Drakeford has defended the Welsh Government’s scrapping of Coronavirus testing targets during Wednesday’s video conference with AMs.
Originally the government had pledged to complete 8,000 tests per day but revised that down to 5,000 per day by mid April. When the decision was announced to scrap the targets on Monday the average number of tests carried out daily averaged just over 1000.
Conservative group leader Paul Davies asked why the target had not been met and Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price also criticised the decision and said: “We are the only nation in these islands that have not seen a large-scale laboratory set up to deal with the pandemic.”
Mr Drakeford rejected the criticism saying: “The capacity we have is adequate to deal with the tests we are currently conducting and we have plans to expand that capacity”.
“How can you say that we have the necessary capacity when you’ve missed your own targets on tests, three times in three weeks and now you’ve scrapped them?” Mr Price replied.
Reflecting on the failure to come close to meeting the numbers promised the First Minister claimed the testing system that had been in place was unnecessarily bureaucratic and pledged: “There will be more tests available in Wales by the end of this week compared to the end of last week”.
He added that he believed “we will have more people taking up those tests as we simplify the referral process”.
Mr Drakeford also confirmed the number of patients in Welsh hospitals because of Coronavirus has “stabilised” and new admissions were also declining but was a pains to stress the threat from the virus is far from over, and lifting the lockdown and a return to something resembling normal life remains a way off: “Sadly, lives will still be lost in the days to come, and I know that all members will want to pause a moment to remember the 600 people and more who are no longer with us, and the grief and distress which this continues to cause to those closest to them.
“Any decision to ease restrictions will only be made when the medical and scientific advice is clear that the time is right to do so.
“The process will be careful, cautious and gradual – there can be no sudden return to the way of life before the pandemic.”
Earlier on Wednesday Public Health Wales confirmed 15 deaths of people in Wales with coronavirus reported over the last 24-hours, bringing the total to 624. There were also 274 new cases, bringing the total number to 8,124.
Plaid Cymru advance free face mask plan
Plaid Cymru has called on the Welsh Government to work with local manufacturers to produce free face masks to give to the general public.
The move comes amid rumours the Westminster Government will instruct people to wear face masks in public to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus amongst asymptomatic carriers.
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price highlighted the work of the Basque co-operative Mondragon that recently announced it had designed a production line that could produce millions of PPE masks and revealed he had facilitated discussions between the co-operative and Welsh Government on building the same production line in Wales. He confirmed that if the project got the green light production could start within weeks.
Urging the Government to make urgent provisions now in their PPE planning to prepare for the surge in demand for face masks available to the general public and maintain the supply to frontline health workers, he said: “This means putting Wales in a position where it is able to produce its own face masks for general public use which could be done through existing local manufacturers who have offered their services to Welsh Government.”
£33m for free school meals during lockdown
Education Minister Kirsty Williams has made an extra £33 million available to enable local authorities to continue providing lunch for children eligible for free school meals during the ongoing Coronavirus lockdown.
When schools originally closed on March 20 the Welsh Government made £7m available to local authorities to provide free school meals.
The extra money is worth the equivalent of £19.50 a week per child and will enable schools or local authorities to either provide gift cards or e-vouchers for local supermarkets, deliver food parcels in association with local businesses or transfer funds directly to the bank accounts of families eligible for free school meals.
The scheme will see meals provided until the schools reopen, or up until the end of August.
The minister said: “This makes Wales the first country in the United Kingdom to provide continued assurance of support to families over the summer holidays.”
Tories call for financial support for foster carers
The Welsh Conservatives have called for financial support for foster carers in Wales who may be struggling with their finances as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Leading fostering organisations have called for foster carers, who are unable to foster because of Coronavirus restrictions, to be paid a retainer. Charities also say foster families are being put under increasing pressure as respite sessions are cancelled, in line with the advice to stay at home.
Shadow Minister for Children and Young People – Janet Finch-Saunders said: “We must all recognise the demanding but vital role that our exceptional foster carers play in providing a stable and loving home for many vulnerable Welsh children.”
“In order to facilitate a better future for our looked-after children, we must first better assist our selfless foster carers through this unprecedented period of challenge. “