‘That was the only Christmas some children would get’: Drakeford reveals one of his most difficult Covid decisions
Mark Drakeford has revealed that one of the most difficult decisions he had to make around the Covid-19 pandemic was to close schools two weeks early in December last year, because he knew it would rob many poorer children of any Christmas.
The Welsh Government confirmed on 10 December last year that schools would move to online learning in order to stop the rapid spread of the Kent variant of Covid-19 during the second wave.
The First Minister told the Central Club podcast that the decision to close schools was one of the hardest he had to make, because many children only got a Christmas dinner, party and present at school.
“You were asking me earlier about hard decisions, and difficult decisions,” he said. “Amongst the most difficult decisions for me was that we ended up closing schools two weeks before the Christmas holiday.
“Because I just know from working in Ely all those years that there are some children who the only Christmas they get, is in school.
“If they get a Christmas party, it’s because it’s in school. If they get Christmas dinner, it’s because they get it in school. If they get a Christmas present, it’s because they get it in school.
“Because their own families live very difficult, very complicated lives. And at home, those things can’t be relied on. And the fact that we ended up closing schools two weeks early, and those children weren’t going to get those things.
“I think that was really one of the nights where I did go home thinking ‘What a thing we’re having to do here’.”
Asked about any other regrets he had, Mark Drakeford said that there were things early in the first lockdown they would have done differently if they had better understood the virus.
“We didn’t know at the time – or we didn’t understand the complete significance of the fact – that in care homes, there were a lot of people who worked in the care home sector who were working in more than one home,” he said.
“The standard pattern in Wales is that you’ll have an owner and that they’ll have two or three homes. And the staff they employ work not just in the one but work in the other two as well.
“And what we didn’t realise was that as workers were moving from one place to another, they were quite often taking coronavirus with them. We just weren’t as alert in those days as we would have been now.
“So in the second wave, we were much stricter. And we worked much more with the sector to say, you know, you limit the number of people who come to work here. Because the fewer people who were coming in and out, the safer people in the care home would be.