The Welsh Government must resist a premature end to the lockdown in Wales
Ifan Morgan Jones
A time will come in the next few weeks when attempts are made by the UK Government to lift some aspects of the lockdown for the sake of the economy.
The Welsh Government must resist these efforts in Wales and stick to the lockdown at least until we are confident that we are past the worst of the pandemic here.
Figures inside the UK Government are now briefing that primary schools and non-essential shops could reopen as early as the beginning of next month.
According to the Daily Telegraph (whose columnists have been lobbying to lift the lockdown from its very beginning) ‘sources’ are warning that “the Government risks causing permanent damage to the economy if the lockdown goes on too long”.
It’s clear why some in the UK Government are very keen to reopen the economy as quickly as possible after the government’s Office of Budgetary Responsibility suggested GDP would crash 35% this quarter.
However while a case could be made that London has now begun to ‘flatten the curve’ of the pandemic it is clear that it is only getting started elsewhere, including many parts of Wales.
When the lockdown was first announced, for the first time perhaps it could be said that Wales was lucky that we’re often run with London in mind. Because the pandemic was at its worst in London, many parts in Wales was able to lockdown earlier – still too late but before the numbers began to grow exponentially.
However this dynamic would be reversed if the lockdown was raised too early in Wales because London has now passed its peak rate of deaths.
Yesterday saw 60 deaths in Wales, the largest number announced on a single day so far. While this may be in part influenced by a backlog of deaths to record over the long weekend there isn’t the evidence yet that Wales has reached its own peak in this pandemic.
Both health and education are a devolved matter in Wales, meaning that ministers have a great degree of power in deciding on whether to continue physical distancing measures on this side of Offa’s Dyke.
So far the Welsh Government has largely moved in lockstep with the UK Government on the lockdown, usually announcing measures just before or at the same time as 10 Dowing Street.
However the Welsh Government has demonstated some willingness to act independently from London. Last week they announced a lockdown extension before 10 Dowrning Street.
In defending the move after criticism from Whitehall, Mark Drakeford said: “We will do the right thing for Wales at the time that it is right for Wales and we won’t be doing that by looking over our shoulders at what others are doing.”
And if they did resist calls to lift the lockdown in Wales for the time being, the Welsh Government would be acting in line with public opinion.
According to a YouGov/ITV poll conducted last week, with ‘don’t knows’ removed 55% in Wales wanted to lockdown tightened and 39% kept as it is. Only 6% though it was a good idea to relax the lockdown.
A one size fits all approach to the pandemic will not work. The virus does not move in an ordely fashion around the country infecting everyone equally.
What we have seen so far are much worse outbreaks in some, usually dense and urban areas, while the spread of cases elsewhere have been significantly slower.
The UK is already on course for the highest number of deaths in Europe and that is no doubt a result of the delay before locking down as well as less stringent lockdown measures compared with Spain and Italy.
We must not make the same mistake coming down the other side of the ‘peak’ and often up too soon, sending the number of deaths higher once again – and doing even greater damage to the economy, if that is he primary consideration.
A one sized fits all, London-led approach does not suit the UK and it will not suit Wales either. London is not the rest of the UK, and this has never been so true as in a viral pandemic.
The people of Wales have voted twice for our own government to control our health system for a very good reason – so that when a situation does arise when our health would benefit from a different approach to London, we can act differently.
No starker example of that could be found than this pandemic, public opinion couldn’t be clearer, and so it’s time for the Welsh Government to demonstrate what it’s for.
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I hope we do delay in Wales. In particular here in rural Powys we have been late in the wave so at greater risk of a second wave. But if it does happen, those of us who live near the border will need to put up signs on cross border roads, including minor ones, to remind drivers that Wales is still in lockdown. We need to prepare for this. Local authorities/Police won’t have the resources to do this.
Lockdown is neither the only issue nor the only solution. In countries which have followed the WHO advice of Test, test, test, trace and isolate ( eg South Korea , South Australia) , lockdown has been less severe and fatalities much much less. Neither the Welsh Government nor the UK has responded effectively to this, and the signs of future action aren’t promising. Is the Welsh Government just waiting for the virus to multiply in Gwynedd and Ceredigion instead of trying to limit its spread?
Instead of knee-jerk reactions let’s at least look at some evidence and Science. School closure may be doing much more harm than good. https://www.thelancet.com/…/PIIS2352-4642…/fulltext…
Debate on children being “super spreaders” still ongoing. Home abuse, hunger and so on, make it tempting to
reopen. Though there are some children who do much better at home due to no distraction and a lack of
bullying. So, could parents , with children’s input, have the choice?
London is not the problem. Lack of leadership is the problem. First to push back against timidity, second to start to plan Wales’ way out of this, and most of all to get the Welsh economy going. We can no longer try to avoid all risk. We must go back to accepting some risk. As with normal ‘flu, car accidents. And weigh the cost of suicide and drug-abuse too. Hoping for a safe space isn’t a good way to run a country. Luckily, as well as South Australia, there are 50 English speaking US State and a Federal Government in… Read more »
Better to follow Latvia and Austria than Trumpland!
Wake up Wales! This is what Wales needs. North Carolina has far more powers, and sense and guts than Wales, and a lot of Welsh connections including me. Dihunwn!
More direct link to what Wales should do now – follow North Carolina
They are probably worried about their health insurance. Has that occured to you?
Your comment is entirely written from the assumption that the risk of infection is something that happens only to other people, and not yourself. The comment that 50 English-speaking states in the US, plus Australia, are working on “the problem” is meaningless. It doesn’t mean that any of them are going to succeed. Their language doesn’t help them to succeed. The virus does not respect rank, borders, language, or ethnicity. And you can’t catch a car accident by standing next to somebody in a supermarket.
JE speaks as someone who hasn’t got the first clue about risk management which never attempts to avoid all risk.
I suggest that if you are such an admirer of the way the US is managing things you get yourself off to the States where half of them are extending lockdown past June and the other half are stomping around waving guns insisting on their right as Freemun Lovin Murrcans to shoot anyone who disagrees with them.
Assault rifles versus virus? https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-armed-michigan-residents-protest-against-stay-at-home-order-calling-it-tyranny-11973905
If I tried to avoid all risk I’d never drive a car. Wrong about the timescale in US. Phased, but starting any day. Being in Wales I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that “Freemun Loving” is something to mock. Oh for a Bill of Rights in Wales, and people who value them. Hey, GJ Sandberg! The point if 50+1 is that Brits have the advantage of 51 experiments that we can follow in our own language and culture – then pick! That a lot of choice. No need to learn Swedish or Korean. Pity we’re not leading, though. Yes, my… Read more »
Ifan writes; “The UK is already on course for the highest number of deaths in Europe”. Well that’s a prediction, not a fact. But let’s say this prediction turns out to be true and then compare our strategy with Sweden. Sweden decided NOT to impose a police state enforcing a social distancing and restriction of movement. Their Covid-19 death rate was initially comparable to the UK per capita and is now declining much faster. This proves, beyond doubt, that apart from destroying local businesses and livelihoods, the lockdown has failed to curb the effects of the virus (roughly the same… Read more »
Relaxed Sweden. pop 8.4M Cases: 13,216. Deaths: 1400 Recovered: 550.
Tense Finland, pop 5.5M Cases : 3,489. Deaths: 82 Recovered: 1,700
Tense Austria, pop 8.4 M Cases : 14568. Deaths: 410 Recovered: 9.704