Senedd roundup: First Minister rejects Westminster criticism over lockdown announcement
First Minister Mark Drakeford has rejected criticism from the UK government of a lack of communication prior to the details of the Welsh Government’s lockdown exit strategy being released on last Friday
The Westminster government complained they were only given an hour’s warning before the measures were announced.
Mr Drakeford, who has consistently complained of a lack of engagement from Boris Johnson and his ministers said it was “very good illustration” of why Westminster should be offering regular meetings with the devolved governments.
“Had we had a system of regular and reliable engagement with the UK government over last week, I would have had opportunities, before the document was published, to have explained what we were doing,” Mr Drakeford said.
Protesting there were “no meetings of that sort” and “those opportunities didn’t exist” he revealed: “We did have a meeting yesterday, between the first ministers of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales with Michael Gove and I welcome that.”
“And I hope that will lead to a more secure, regular rhythm of these meetings, both this week and next, and I would be very keen indeed to use those opportunities to share as much as possible, because the more we share, the better the chances are that we can move in line with one another.”
Speaking at Monday’s coronavirus press briefing the First Minister also indicated he would assess the evidence before making a move to increase fines for breaking the lockdown restrictions in Wales.
There have been calls for increased fines and increased powers for the police to deter people travelling from England, where the lockdown has been eased, into Wales.
Mr Drakeford said he had received “evidence” from police forces and police and crime commissioners that would be looked at. He said: “No government should take action to change penalties unless there is good evidence of the need to do so.”
However, he added: “If the evidence demonstrates that there is a problem which can be solved and should be solved by raising the level of fines in Wales, then of course we are prepared to discuss that with our chief constables.”
A further four people have died with coronavirus, bringing the total to 1,207. Public Health Wales has also confirmed 101 new cases, meaning 12,404 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19. Across Wales 1,931 tests were carried out in the last 24 hours.
New funding announced to extend mental health support in schools
The Welsh Government has announced £3.75 million of additional funding to support the provision of mental health support in schools.
School counselling services currently provide direct support to pupils from the age of 11, or Year 6, up to the age of 18. The new funding will extend support to provide mental and emotional support to children younger than Year 6.
Around 11,500 young people each year access lower level mental health support, outside specialist NHS provision, in schools and community counselling services.
£450,000 will also go towards supporting mental health and well-being of the school workforce.
The Welsh Government is working with partners to develop further plans on how that support will be delivered.
The funding is in addition to £1.25m announced by the Education Minister last month, for local authorities to deliver counselling services in schools, taking the total support to £5m this financial year.
Warning that people who lose their sense of smell should self-isolate
The four chief medical officers in the United Kingdom: Prof Chris Whitty (England); Dr Gregor Smith (Scotland); Dr Frank Atherton (Wales); and Dr Michael McBride (Northern Ireland) have issued a joint statement that adds anosmia (loss of smell) to the list of coronavirus symptoms.
The statement warns people who lose their sense of smell they should self-isolate, even if they do not have other symptoms.
The full statement says: “From today, all individuals should self-isolate if they develop a new continuous cough or fever or anosmia.
“Anosmia is the loss or a change in your normal sense of smell. It can also affect your sense of taste as the two are closely linked.
“We have been closely monitoring the emerging data and evidence on Covid-19 and after thorough consideration, we are now confident enough to recommend this new measure.
The individual’s household should also self-isolate for 14 days as per the current guidelines and the individual should stay at home for 7 days, or longer if they still have symptoms other than cough or loss of sense of smell or taste.”
Government attacked over testing platform switch
Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns MS, has accused the Welsh Government of “playing party politics with people’s lives” following the announcement that an online platform for key workers to book coronavirus tests has been scrapped.
Wales will now align with England, Scotland and Northern Island in using the same UK-wide system.
Welsh ministers originally decided to work with Amazon in developing a testing portal, but Health Minister Vaughan Gething said on Sunday that data issues with the UK-wide system had been resolved so there was no need to continue “developing that Wales-only route”.
Angela Burns said: “This is great news for key workers in Wales as they will finally be treated the same as the rest of the frontline against the Covid-19 fight. It is however a massive shame on the Welsh Government for the time and money wasted when they should have joined up with the UK Government on this right away. For weeks testing in Wales has stagnated and the people that we owe our lives to are being let down.
“The Welsh Government claim they want a four nation approach to defeat Covid-19 but at each and every opportunity given to them they have to delay, waste time and money and then eventually decide that it is in the best interests of the people of Wales. They urgently need to come to that realisation quicker and stop playing party politics with people’s lives.”
Plaid Cymru’s health spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth also condemned the U-turn and said:” How much has this cost us? How much time has been lost as a result of this?
“It’s another example of the confusion in the way the Welsh Government has reacted to this. Great if this is the best way, there we are. But it raises the questions why are we again in this situation with so much confusion?”
Government urged to provide support for zoos
The Welsh Conservatives are calling for a “Covid-19 Zoos Support Fund” to help zoos and aquariums survive the current pandemic.
The UK Government has set up a £14 million fund to provide animal welfare grants of up to £100,000 for zoos or aquariums affected by coronavirus and the Welsh Conservatives are urging the Welsh Government to follow suit.
The Welsh Government said they would not follow the lead of the UK Government as zoos are able to apply for funding from the economic resilience scheme.
Andrew RT Davies MS, said, Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “Zoos in Wales are really struggling and desperately need support due to the impact of Covid-19, especially as their research work is essential in preserving endangered species and supporting conservation efforts.
“The UK Government has taken action and made £14 million to support zoos and others in England but the Welsh Government has once again failed and ruled out creating a similar fund here in Wales.”
A petition has also been launched by the Welsh Conservatives and can be signed online at “conservatives.wales”.