Senedd roundup: Further action to protect high-risk groups
Here’s a summary of some of the written statements issued by the Welsh Government on the coronavirus pandemic, some of which were issued instead of oral statements in the Senedd chamber.
Around 70,000 people in Wales have been identified as being in a “high-risk” group who will need to take actions above and beyond that expected of most households.
The “high-risk” group includes the over-70s, those with certain long-term health condition and those with immunosuppression (i.e. from cancer treatment or certain types of drugs). This group will be expected to remain at home completely for at least 12 weeks.
Anyone within the “high-risk” group will be contacted by letter – which are currently being sent out and will include advice on how ongoing medical treatment will be provided as well as other issues such as food supplies and personal care.
Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) said: “If you receive a letter, it is really important you follow the guidance to stay safe and well. Don’t leave your home, or invite anyone into your home, unless it is absolutely vital. The public’s support in this effort is crucial. It’s really important everyone follows the guidance about staying at home and social distancing, even if they are normally fit and well and don’t feel at risk.”
Firefighters could support NHS during the pandemic
Fire & Rescue Services have suspended all non-essential awareness and engagement work and could be asked to aid the NHS once firefighters unions have been assured that their health and wellbeing would be protected.
Also, town and community councils have been asked “to make use of their local intelligence and networks” – particularly in identifying possible vulnerable groups or individuals.
Certain restrictions “which make perfect sense in normal times” are set to be relaxed – which raises the prospect of changes to waste collections. Councils will also be able to undertake meetings remotely.
An initial £30 million of emergency funding will be made available to councils – which includes £7 million to maintain continuity of free school meals and £10 million to protect rough-sleepers by housing them temporarily in B&Bs, student accommodation and hotels.
First Minister launches “Looking Out for Each Other” Campaign
The First Minister has launched a campaign aimed at advising communities and neighbourhoods through the pandemic.
A special website has been set up with tips on self-isolating, additional advice for those in high-risk groups and advice for those who want to help others.
The First Minister said: “We know this is an incredibly worrying time for everyone, especially those who have a higher risk of developing a serious illness if exposed to the virus. We are doing everything possible to keep Wales safe, but also these (high-risk) groups safe during the outbreak. The public’s support in this effort is vital.”
Further details on PPE provision on the frontlines
In addition to new guidance issued by the Welsh Government last week, the Health Minister has provided additional information on the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline health and social care workers.
- Existing stock of PPE “must be used efficiently” until new supplies are sourced.
- PPE is generally reserved for those in direct contact with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 patients and those who’ve been given infection control training. Voluntary organisations who will be/ are helping in the NHS or social care should contact the NHS or local authority to source PPE.
- A hotline and emergency contact number and e-mail for the Welsh Emergency Coordination Centre (“Welsh COBRA”) will be set up to use if supplies of PPE are disrupted or there’s a sudden surge in use.
Upper limit on emergency business rate relief introduced
“….the Welsh Government has decided to make one adjustment to the Non-Domestic Rates (NDR) Relief for the hospitality, retail and leisure sector announced last week: to not extend the 100% relief to the small proportion of properties with a rateable value of £500,000 and above.
This will affect fewer than 200 properties across Wales but will release more than £100 million to kick-start the economic crisis fund. We will be writing to all of the businesses affected and making clear that we will consider discretionary support if there is a compelling economic case to do so.”
AMs grant consent to “draconian” emergency Coronavirus Bill
Extraordinary measures for extraordinary times
Running through the list of restrictions and public health measures taken (or due to be available via the Bill) to slow the spread of Covid-19 the Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), said the Bill included “extraordinary measures for the extraordinary times that we face”.
Chair of the Constitutional Affairs & Justice Committee, Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd), noted that the situation was so serious a threat to security or life that emergency powers were justified. That said, he raised the prospect of associated problems causing issues such as a failure to address low incomes during the quarantine period.
Several AMs welcomed the agreement in London that the powers would be reviewed and renewed every six months by the UK Parliament instead of remaining in place for the full two years.
“I reflect now on when I stood for election to this Senedd in 2016 and all I was hoping for was that my life experiences would bring something to this institution and that I could do my little bit to make life for my constituents….just that little bit better. Not once did it cross my mind that less than four years later I’d be in this Chamber debating legislation that would give emergency powers to our Government in the face of a public health emergency. But here we are. And the speed at which this has moved has been quite frightening.”
– Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Several AMs also acknowledged the “draconian” nature of the Bill; Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) said he was a champion of individual freedoms but given the situation the powers were necessary. He said it was essential that the number of volunteers able to fill gaps in health and social care was maximised as much as possible using clauses and powers in the Bill.
Welsh Government “should provide regular updates” on the use of emergency powers
Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) noted the impact the Bill’s provisions would have on certain groups, including the disabled and their care, as well as expanded powers concerning those with mental illness:
Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) was under no doubt that the government needed the powers in the Bill following the mass flouting of public health advice to stay home last weekend, leading to behaviour which has put communities in danger. Given that, with the breadth of the powers at their disposal, he wasn’t the only AM to call for the Welsh Government to regularly update AMs on their use. He also criticised the pre-existing civil contingencies powers as being inadequate.
Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) said that if governments were going to “have the power to stop me seeing my father or my sons” then proof was needed that those powers were necessary.
Some of those powers on mental health, disabilities – both Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) and Neil McEvoy AM (WNP, South Wales Central) raising concerns that it could lead to an unacceptable level of care – and suspending DBS checks may lead to unintended consequences; Suzy Davies used an example of teachers who’ve been struck off being allowed back into the workforce.
In the end, the LCM was approved unanimously.