Today’s Senedd roundup: Call for greater powers to manage coronavirus threat in Wales
Owen Donovan, Senedd Home
First Minister’s Questions.
With the first case of Covid-19/coronavirus confirmed in Wales last week, the party leaders focused their questions there during First Minister’s Questions, with a statement from the Health Minister due later this afternoon.
Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price also expressed concern that Wales had not put “certain measures in place” after the publication of the Coronavirus: action plan published today by the four nations.
According to the plan, in England medical professionals and the police will have powers to detain and direct individuals suspected of having the virus. In Scotland, similar power will reside with Health Boards and in northern Ireland the public health agency.
In Wales, local authorities will have powers to apply for an order to be made by the Justice of the Peace to isolate, detain or require individuals to undergo medical examination.
Adam Price expressed concern that the powers available to Wales to prevent the spreading of the virus were “significantly weaker” compared to the other three nations.
He added that Wales needed “equivalent regulatory powers” like those in England, Scotland and northern Ireland so that Wales could “adequately deal with any potential outbreak”.
“In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the virus is now classified as a notifiable disease: why isn’t it here? In England, emergency powers are already in place to allow the police to direct and detain a person who does not comply with a request to be isolated if suspected of carrying the virus, and those powers will be extended to medical and public health professionals: will this happen here? And can we have a daily rather than a weekly public update, as happens in Scotland, of the number of positive and negative coronavirus tests?”
– Adam Price AM
The First Minister confirmed that the spectrum of people infected is expected to range between 50-80% – but this wasn’t a prediction and wasn’t what the Welsh Government thinks will happen.
He also said a daily update is provided on the Public Health Wales website. If the Welsh Government has to make emergency regulations to control the disease then AMs will have an opportunity to scrutinise them.
If you think you’re infected, DON’T go to a GP
Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) was pleased that there was cross-border and cross-government working on this, but a potential pandemic could put excessive strain on primary care services. Preventative measures may also need to be taken in the residential social care sector.
I’m sure there’ll be more on this in the Health Minister’s statement, but the First Minister repeated advice from Public Health Wales:
“…..there is clear advice available to patients in Wales and, as of today, any patient needing advice will be able to use the 111 number to get coronavirus advice at no charge to that individual. The advice is if you think you have any vulnerability not to go to the GP, not to go to an A&E department, but to take advice through that number in the first instance.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)
He raised the possibility that GPs may have to suspend routine screening tasks if the virus spreads to a point where it can’t be contained anymore. One option being discussed is bringing retired NHS staff back into work temporarily through emergency re-registration.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to be shut out of post-Brexit trade negotiations
The UK Government has reneged on assurances that the devolved nations would have a say in post-Brexit trade negotiations by stating the devolved government’s views would only be taken into account “when we (UK Government) can”.
As recently as January 2020, Michael Gove MP said the devolved nations would “absolutely” have a say in shaping the UK’s negotiations. Instead, the UK has published a stance which implicitly suggests they’ll walk away from negotiations unilaterally and will “go it alone”.
In a strongly-worded statement, Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath) said: “The Welsh Government does not endorse the positions set out in the UK mandate. In taking their approach, the UK Government has missed the opportunity to build a strong united position across all governments of the UK. With a UK Government choosing not to listen to our legitimate concerns, they enter the negotiations next week alone.”
ITV Wales’ Adrian Masters said a statement from the First Minister, in which he expressed “great regret” at the UK Government’s decision, was a sign of “a serious breakdown in relations” between the UK and Welsh governments.
Minimum-per-unit alcohol pricing comes into force
From yesterday (2nd March 2020), alcoholic drinks in Wales will have a minimum-per-unit price of 50p applied, which is expected to see a sharp increase in the price of cheap, strong drinks such as white cider.
A formula based on the minimum unit price, alcohol strength and the volume of a drink will be used to determine the minimum price retailers can sell a drink for.
Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) said: “We know when alcohol is cheap and readily available, harmful drinking increases. The minimum price won’t affect moderate drinkers who may be worried about the price of a pint going up. The aim of this legislation is to reduce the harm being done by those most at risk of alcohol abuse.”
Cardiff Airport looking at linking to Rhoose station with autonomous pods
Children’s Commissioner condemns for-profit children’s homes
The Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Dr Sally Holland’s, report has condemned care homes which profit from looked-after children (pdf).
It’s said 80% of children’s homes in Wales are run for-profit. The Commissioner said there had to be a move “towards reducing and ultimately ending profit-making in children’s care services, without detriment to children and young people’s current care arrangements”
Current Welsh Government policy is to reduce the number of children taken into care – which runs at a relatively high rate in Wales compared to the rest of the UK – and they said that moving towards non-profit providers was “a priority”.