Owen Donovan, Senedd Home
Plaid Cymru has largely welcomed the caution displayed by the Welsh Government in easing the coronavirus lockdown but has criticised the introduction of a 5-mile travel limit.
Under the new guidelines, people from two different households in the same local area would be allowed to meet outdoors – and “local” has been confirmed as within a 5-mile radius. But in a letter to the First Minister, Plaid’s Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth complains this new rule is “impractical”, disproportionately favours those in city centre locations, and serves to further isolate those in rural communities.
The shadow minister writes: “I’d previously urged Government to look at allowing families to meet in the open air, on the grounds of welfare, as long as it was based on science and risk management. It is not clear where the figure of five miles comes from, nor is it clear how this rule can be effectively governed.
“What is of greater concern is that in rural parts of Wales, including my constituency, five miles is a very small area. Many people who consider themselves to live close to family or friends, would still be unable to see them.
“To have a plan that disproportionately favours those in city centre locations is both unfair and is another Cardiff-centric policy from a government which seems intent on ignoring the needs of rural Wales.”
Ten more people have died with coronavirus in Wales, taking the total to 1,317. Public Health Wales confirmed 102 new cases on Friday, increasing the total number of confirmed infections in Wales to 13,827. There were 2,743 tests conducted yesterday.
Conservatives dub lockdown changes “missed opportunity”
The Welsh Conservative spokesperson on post-Covid policy, Darren Millar MS, has sharply criticised the limited easing of lockdown rules announced by the Welsh Government on Friday.
The latest review left the majority of restriction in Wales in place apart from allowing people from no more than two different households to meet outdoors – including private gardens – as long as people remain 2 metres from each other and travel within 5 miles to meet.
Weddings and civil partnerships can also now take place if either the bride(s) or groom(s) is/are terminally ill.
Describing the changes as “a missed opportunity” Mr Millar said: “Where people were looking for clarity, they have again been given confusion. Where they wanted decisiveness, they have been given more dithering. Where they were expecting hope, they have been left helpless.
“This policy is arbitrary and cruel to say to many families that they cannot mix, and for many people this will mean they will see grandparents and grandchildren reunited in the garden next door while they are left lonely and isolated.
“This announcement is an urban solution by a Welsh Labour Government that only cares about city and town life.”
Mr Millar was also unhappy at the lack of measures to ease restrictions on business activity, saying: “The Welsh Government seems content to let the economy of Wales slip further toward a recession, without a care for many businesses which are ready to implement proper social distancing and re-open their premises to get the economy moving again.”
Health chief targets phased return to normal activity in NHS
Dr Andrew Goodall, NHS Wales chief executive, says it is important for the NHS to start taking a phased approach in returning to a “more routine level of activity” but predicted it could be months before the number of cancer referrals and emergency admissions return to the level before the coronavirus crisis struck.
Dr Goodall said cancer referrals were “still lower than I would expect” but added they had recovered from the lowest figures seen at the end of March. Meanwhile, activity in hospital emergency departments had fallen by a third overall compared to last year but among children and young adults’ attendances are 60% down on last year and there is a 40% reduction in attendances for the over-75s.
He said: “Obviously, it was a very significant decision that we took back in March to step away from our routine NHS activity.
“So, I think, alongside cautious steps that we’ve taken in terms of the government reflecting on exit from lockdown, I think it’s really important to recognise that the NHS itself needs to make its own contribution to that.
“I would still state that our focus is, as much as possible, to ensure that emergency and urgent patients are prioritised within that approach.”
Angela Burns MS, the Welsh Conservatives Shadow Health Minister, welcomed Dr Goodall’s comments on a phased return to more normal levels of activity but said: “NHS Wales must – and we Welsh Conservatives have called for this for weeks – look at how it can quickly clear the backlog of referrals and treatment, especially for cancer and heart disease.
“While each of us is relieved to see numbers of infections and deaths from Coronavirus generally falling, we cannot afford to see the curve from other causes of death rise.”
Campaigners write to First Minister over Hinkley Point C dumping plans
Campaigners against the dumping of more mud from alongside a nuclear power site in Somerset into the sea off Cardiff Bay have sent a letter to First Minister Mark Drakeford signed by 34 NGOs, policy analysts, experts and campaigners.
EDF Energy wants to deposit up to 780,000 tonnes of sediment dredged as part of building work for the Hinkley Point C plant.
Two years ago, protesters campaigned to stop mud being dumped in the same area of sea off Cardiff but after triggering a full Senedd debate EDF were subsequently given permission to dump up to 300,000 tonnes of mud off the coast.
The signatories include Greenpeace UK, Jonathon Porritt, Welsh Anti-Nuclear Alliance, Low Level Radiation Campaign, Nuclear Free Local Authorities, and the Nuclear Consulting Group and are seeking assurances from Mr Drakeford that he will:
- respect the requirements of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016
- ensure that the sampling programme is expanded
- appoint an Expert Group which includes nominated members
when conducting the assessment of the 600,000 tonnes of mud proposed for dredging and dumping on Cardiff Grounds as part of the Hinkley C development.
Low Level Radiation Campaign Secretary, Richard Bramhall, said: “The law requires Natural Resources Wales and the Welsh Government to take full account of uncertainties. There is abundant evidence in the scientific literature that uranium and plutonium particles are blown ashore and cause cancer, leukaemia, and birth defects, yet Westminster’s advisory committee COMARE refuses to address them and EDF’s tests can’t detect them. If this isn’t an uncertainty what is?”
Pete Wilkinson, an associate of Low Level Radiation Campaign and Chairman of Together Against Sizewell C (TASC), added, “The number and diversity of those who have been willing to put their name to this letter indicates that this issue is of national importance. The evidence points to the fact that the relationship between radioactive dose and risk is not necessarily linear and this letter seeks recognition of that uncertainty and a considered, science-based approach to the EDF application.”
Two households can meet locally outdoors, but lockdown remains for at least another three weeks
Despite indications lockdown in Wales will be eased before the end of June, for the next three weeks the lockdown remains in place – albeit with relaxations to allow friends and family to socialise outdoors.
The changes include:
- People from no more than two different households can meet outdoors – including private gardens – as long as people remain 2 metres from each other and it’s a local visit, meaning within 5 miles as a general rule. This isn’t permission to hold garden parties and means nothing more than brief visits.
- Weddings and civil partnerships can take place if either the bride(s) or groom(s) is/are terminally ill.
The reason why socialising is being restricted to outdoors only is scientific evidence that Covid-19 survives longer on indoor environments than outdoor environments.
“We know people are missing seeing their family and friends – the latest evidence, which underpins this review, means we can make some changes, to enable people to meet again, if it is done outdoors and locally, and people continue to follow the social distancing guidance.
“We are learning more about this virus every day and we know the risk of transmission is lower outdoors than indoors. That’s why, if we all remain 2 metres apart, 2 households will be able to meet outdoors, including in private gardens.
“However, lower risk doesn’t mean no risk. Even in these circumstances, it is vital we all maintain social distancing so we can continue to tackle the spread of this virus.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)
All other restrictions remain in place, including fines for being in public without a reasonable excuse (such as extended day trips; tourist destinations remain closed) and strict social distancing measures in workplaces and supermarkets.
As mentioned, there are signs that Wales could see a more substantial easing of lockdown before the end of June.
Non-essential retailers (retailers which have had to remain closed during the lockdown, such as hairdressers, clothes shops etc.) have been told by the Welsh Government to make preparations to safely reopen ahead of next review.
The Welsh Government will also consider opening more outdoor spaces to the public (i.e. sports courts, showrooms, outdoor markets), opening more facilities for elite athletes to train, extending public transport and childcare as well as safely allowing people to move house.
The next review will take place on 18th June and would probably come into effect w/c 22nd June.
In response, the Conservatives criticised the “5-mile rule” for household visits as being arbitrary and unfairly limiting people living in rural areas (who may have to travel much further than 5 miles to visit another household).
Plaid Cymru – whilst welcoming the cautious approach but describing the 5-mile rule as “impractical” – called for a clearer roadmap as to when restrictions will be lifted, saying the traffic light system lacked detail.