The coronavirus epidemic is the moment for Welsh devolution to prove its worth

Welsh Health Minister Vuaghan Gething. Picture by Davmay48 (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Ifan Morgan Jones

An article by the Political Editor of the Sunday Times this morning confirms what many had suspected, which is that the UK Government misjudged their early response to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Tim Shipman’s article, at the end of February political strategist Dominic Cummings’ approach was “herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”.

Apparently this all changed on March 12 – the day before Wales v Scotland was called off – when the government realised that it would lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths, and they quickly changed to an approach which shut down mass gatherings and pubs and cafes.

Although this is described in the article as a ‘Damascene conversion’ it’s still worth asking to what extent the UK Government is taking all measures at their disposal to tackle the crisis.

Their approach currently is a half-way house between mitigation and the kind of suppression strategy we have seen in France, Italy, Spain and elsewhere.

Essentially they are asking people to stay at home but not enforcing that by any legal means, leading to scenes as witnessed on Snowdon yesterday when hundreds of tourists descended on the mountain.

There has also been a failure in communicating their message to the public. £46m was spent on the Get Ready for Brexit campaign but we have seen no similar effort to get the message over about the lift-saving steps people can take to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

As a result, and looking at the projections for the future spread of coronavirus in the UK, it is probably too late to avoid becoming another Italy.

The question now may not be how we avoid hundreds of deaths a day in April but how we avoid thousands a day in May, when the infection is expected to reach its peak.

 

Decamping

The revelation that the UK Government got its response to coronavirus wrong is an important reminder to the Welsh Government that Number 10 and Whitehall are not infallible.

The Welsh Government can act on their own if there is a clear and obvious need to do so, as they should have done on the issue of Wales v Scotland.

So far the Welsh Government has moved in lockstep with the UK Government on moves such as banning mass gatherings and closing pubs.

However, given that health is devolved to Wales, and that the Coronavirus Bill making its way through the House of Commons will give Welsh ministers sweeping new powers, there is no reason why they cannot move more quickly on some issues.

There are a number of areas where the Welsh Government have already done excellent work:

  • Announcing that the £350m Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran will open next month, a year earlier than planned.
  • Bringing final year medical students, nurses and midwives into paid roles in the NHS.
  • Screening frontline NHS staff in Wales for coronavirus to help the health service cope with the outbreak.
  • Cancelling planned surgery last week in order to free up capacity to deal with coronavirus.

One obvious other issue on which they could quickly deviate from the UK Government’s approach is to close caravan parks, campsites and Air BnBs to visitors from outside the area.

I don’t blame anyone that wants to sit out the pandemic in rural Wales. I would want to do the same, particularly with the kids’ psychological and physical health in mind.

However with GPs, AMs and MPs from across the west of Wales united in calling for reistrictions in order not to put too much pressure on already struggling health boards, the Welsh Government should act quickly.

This is not a nationalist issue or an England v Wales issue as some have tried to paint it – it would be the same if large numbers of people from Cardiff or Newport were decamping to rural areas in order to flee the coronavirus.

Norway have already banned people moving to second homes in rural areas and the issue has also raised its head in Cornwall, Spain, Italy and France.

In order to avoid a massive strain on already patchy rural health services, the Welsh Government should implement these changes ASAP.

Stricter

Beyond this, once the Coronavirus Bill is passed the Welsh Government should act quickly to implement the kind of stringent lockdown seen in other countries.

The UK Government has already said that it wants to avoid such “draconian” measures but the Welsh Government can and should come to a different conclusion.

A short term lockdown now is essential in order to give the NHS the time to prepare itself for the spike in coronavirus cases over the next few months.

Luckily despite sadly already suffering 12 deaths, much of Wales overall seems to be around two weeks behind in epicentre of the UK outbreak in London.

It can use that time not just to implement stricter measures but also to ensure that they are still in place when London has already gotten over the worst.

They could also invest in the kind of public information campaign that is needed in order to get the message out to everyone in Wales regarding what kind of behaviour is needed to stop the spread of the virus, and why it helps.

The fact that devolution exists reflects the fact that Wales is politically and demographically different from other parts of the UK.

Few here would agree that the our first priority should be to “protect the economy and and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”.

The Welsh Government doesn’t have to follow the UK Government’s lead – we can do things differently if we see fit. That is ultimately what devolution is for, and this is the moment when it can prove its worth.

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John Ellisj humphrysCian LlywelynLily smithRichard LONGUES Recent comment authors
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Charles L. Gallagher
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Charles L. Gallagher

What this crisis really shows are the devasting consequences of ten years of savage dogma based cuts to all our Public Services by the Tories and their coalition partners for five years the Lib/Dems but thankfully our devolved, SNP led Scottish Government has managed with some difficulty to mitigate these cuts but we were not totally immune from them all.

John Evans
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John Evans

Drakeford and co have already fumbled and dropped the ball. They are now watching bewildered as covid 19 heads unchallenged for the try line.

Alwyn
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Alwyn

There is still time for Welsh Labour to redeem themselves – but hopefully Vaughan Gething and Mark Drakeford read Nation. Com or the message won’t get across!

Richard LONGUES
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Richard LONGUES

I love this article and it’s spirit. The spirit of lndependence.

Wait for your chance and move smart. Keep the faith, always.
Everything is possible if you have the right identity and attitude.
The spider builds again.

Diolch in mawr !

Cymru am byth !

Kerry Davies
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Kerry Davies

Perhaps it would be useful to read the Coronavirus Bill (HoC Bill 122) before criticising the Welsh Government? Powers using the legal system of England and Wales, such as inquests, insurance and all Home Office responsibility for civil order etc. are reserved to Westminster. Drakeford and the Senedd are currently severely limited in comparison to Scotland. We don’t have Welsh law or the capacity to not follow Westminster and to ignore that rather smelly elephant in the room is naive. The Bill, when passed will delegate quite strong powers to Welsh Government but if the argument is to devolve justice,… Read more »

Ann Owen
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Ann Owen

But can apply the existing PublicHealth Acts that do give a range of emergency powers.

John Ellis
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John Ellis

I watched James Williams interviewing Mark Drakeford on the BBC’s ‘Politics Wales’ this (Sunday) morning.

While Drakeford seemed in principle to favour more decisive government action in certain areas in the context of the current crisis, he commented that the government must always act according to law, and said that he and his team will be meeting imminently with the lawyers in order to be certain of the powers which his government presently possesses.

Presumably he was alluding to the point which you make.

David
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David

As the most confirmed cases in the UK are in London, there should initially be a complete lock down within the M25.

Mark Thomas
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Mark Thomas

Totally agree 1000%

max wallis
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max wallis

Excellent Ifan! It’s high time the WG and Public Health Wales exerted their own policy PHW still tell us the virus has spread throughout Wales. Yet 5 of the new deaths were in Gwent, like half the confirmed cases. Should this not mean stronger measures to lockdown the Newport area? Contrast the urgency of the situationwith the slow roll-out of testing in Wales, reported by Chris Williams, COVID19 Incident Director https://phw.nhs.wales/…/public-health-wales-statement-on-n…/ for full statement. Failure till now on Testing is now tacitly admitted: “…appropriate access to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) testing. Based on careful risk assessment, a phased rollout of testing… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Dead right on the testing, as it seems to have worked in S Korea.

mark Thomas
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mark Thomas

Whole country needs locking down immediately!

max wallis
Guest
max wallis

Fortunately the public doesn’t buy Boris Johnson’s panicky over-reaction and know we have to support our health service, public transport and services to support the ‘frontline’ and back-office staff. As well as the whole food supply chain. That includes Welsh farmers harvesting early crops and planting new. We haven’t tried to make social distancing work in supermarkets, nor wearing facemasks, nor packing your shopping in bags rather than taking the trolley to the car, washing/sanitising hands immediately after leaving the trolley. Perhaps the 5 deaths in Gwent will bring home in Wales how serious the situation is and get people… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

I like the idea of “sweeping new powers”, and hope our gov. use them to their full extent, as they are obviously needed. Retain them like Smaug afterwards.

Richard LONGUES
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Richard LONGUES

Some important information from France, where Dr. Didier RAOULT, an internationally well known epidemiologist from IHU in Marseilles, has been the first to prescribe a cure against CORONAVIRUS: Chloroquine, with a high degree of efficiency, even if not 100 %. He is strongly recommending its use now and simultaneously, the end of the confinement, as it was not necessary in South Korea because they used Chloroquine very rapidly. It was also used in China with very good results. The Pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want it since it’s an old medication, and they wouldn’t make a good business out of it, if… Read more »

Cian Llywelyn
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Cian Llywelyn

How is this lazy copy and paste of misinformation relevant to this discussion?

j humphrys
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j humphrys

You believe Chloroquine to be useless, and Welsh Gov. has rejected it?

Lily smith
Guest

If Dominic Cummings is indifferent to the lives and deaths of pensioners does that also include his own parents/grandparents and members of the Royal Family?

If the Dominic Cummings statement is true, surely he will go down in history as some sort of psychopath.

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

Psychopaths prioritize their cerebral doctrines over mere human sentiments …