The news that the Westminster government appears to have interfered in the Welsh government’s access to Covid-19 testing kits has filled people with rage and despair. This isn’t like the daily dismay over the weakness of our devolved institutions, nor an outraged sense of patriotic pride, nor a notion that someone’s taken our toys away. It is a helpless fear: a decision over which our country has no control is going to cost lives, potentially thousands of lives.
Cumulatively, the fear and anxiety over Covid-19 mounts as the figures rise, and the chaos grows. We each of us manage that anxiety in different ways. I do so by limiting my exposure to the anxious speculation of others, and by trying to access reliable, accurate news (and I don’t watch TV). But the news itself confuses: if you listen to Westminster briefings, and rely on the BBC or broadsheet coverage, you will hear about purported UK figures that are in fact England-only figures, UK policies that are English policies, NHS preparations that are NHS England preparations, UK projections that are England-only projections.
Health is devolved, yet UK government ministers and England’s medical officers continue to confuse and conflate England and the UK, and the media continues to enable and repeat it. This is not new, but its consequences are new, and they are frightening.
Because we have almost no media to call our own, most of us are unaware of information that relates exclusively to Wales. Even if we do manage to access statements by our own ministers, our own medical officers and Public Health Wales to learn about figures, policies, preparations and projections that pertain to us here, we find confusion – because although Health is nominally devolved, our government’s capacity to deliver it is unclear, as the testing fiasco reveals.
This confusion isn’t simply an outrage because Wales, as always, is being overlooked or sidelined: it has consequences for public behaviour – behaviour that will also cost lives.
One example is in rural Wales. According to the Chief Executive of the Hywel Dda Health Board, as reported by Llanelli AM Lee Waters, the pandemic is not projected to peak in mid and west Wales until early June. That is weeks after the projected peak in urban areas of England. If restrictions begin to be lifted or eased elsewhere, and at that point Westminster is still conflating England with the UK, what might the consequences be for those of us living in the Hywel Dda Health Board area?
There would likely be widespread non-compliance with continued restrictions – not because of idiocy, but because of confusion. And we know what the results of that would be: a resurgence of cases and deaths which, if it makes the UK news, will be seen as an outlier, as an example of stupid behaviour, not as a direct result of lazy inaccuracy on the part of Westminster and the media.
Despair is crippling, and we cannot afford to indulge in it. Its antidote is action. So what can we do? How can we as private citizens act to protect our communities? We might think the answer to the problem is clear – developing our own media; working towards political independence – but these are long-term and abstract goals that have little bearing on what is an urgent situation.
However, we can all influence how we behave collectively both immediately and over the weeks to come. We can do that by sharing accurate news with one another that pertains to Wales, and by challenging and helping to clear up confusion over UK-wide or England-only information wherever and whenever we encounter it.
That includes reminding every politician and journalist who gets it wrong to get it right – calmly, clearly, and with the explanation that this is not a question of national pride, but a question of mortal consequences.
For more information on COVID-19 in Wales, please follow this link.