Wales isn’t England and Ceredigion isn’t Cardiff – we need a localised approach to lifting the lockdown

First Minister Mark Drakeford AM.
First Minister Mark Drakeford AM. Mark Hawkins / Alamy Stock Photo

Ifan Morgan Jones

Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford seems to be playing a game of lockdown hokey-cokey, telling the Guardian that he foresees that Wales could lift restrictions before England, and then informing us via BBC Radio 4 this morning that he’d rather the entire UK come out of the lockdown hand-in-hand.

Of course, perhaps the First Minister could claim that his approach is entirely consistent – he would rather the UK leaves the lockdown at the same time but is also prepared for Wales to go it alone.

Unfortunately, as in everything else in Welsh politics, there’s a danger that this becomes a battle about constitutional preferences not how best to deal with the pandemic, with some wanting Wales to do its own thing for the sake of it and the others begrudging any suggestion that Wales make a success of doing things differently.

Predictably, the Conservatives are taking the latter approach and putting pressure on the Welsh Government to abandon any thought of acting alone. Conservative AM Andrew RT Davies was this morning tweeting derisively that the First Minister had realised that doing things differently to the UK Government “could not work”.

However, the call to follow the UK Government’s approach in England in all things plainly doesn’t make sense. As the BBC’s Policy Editor Lewis Goodall pointed out, England is in a uniquely “bad place” among not just the UK’s nations but European ones as well.


Not only would it be negligent to unquestionably mimic the approach of the country with the worst outcomes in Europe, but it’s plain that Wales just isn’t England. We are simply in a different place in the lifetime of the pandemic.

This isn’t a Welsh nationalist point either, as I’ll go further: A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to Wales won’t do the trick either. How can the same approach make sense in Ceredigion, which has seen only 36 cases, and Cardiff which has 1,668? Due to our west-east transport infrastructure, the virus has also spread at a different speed and from a different direction across the coast of the north of Wales.

 

Localised

Having said that, it’s clear that Wales and England have had a lot in common when dealing with the first stages of this pandemic. But that’s because both governments were in the same hole. Neither had a plan, a test and trace programme in place, and both were extremely low on PPE.

Hard questions need to be asked about why the lockdown wasn’t implemented sooner (another suggestion that following UK Government advice isn’t necessarily the best option). But in reality, much of this catastrophe was inevitable when the first case of coronavirus arrived on our shores.

Neither government was prepared, and it’s essentially all been a mad scramble to get the infrastructure and supplies in place to make the kind of response that is necessary – i.e. the South Korea, test and trace response – possible. Although that horse may well have already bolted.

However, once we’re past these early months of scrambling to catch up and the infrastructure is in place, getting out of the lockdown is going to need a much more local response than getting into it. Population density and numbers of infections are all going to have to play a part in decision making.

The UK Government seems to be coming around to this way of thinking. According to a report by James Forsyth in the Spectator:

“I understand that the hope in government is that their new method will allow them to take a highly localised approach. So, for example, if Bristol became a virus hotspot, testing could begin on a large scale and an army of contact-tracers could be deployed. Until the outbreak was contained, schools and non-essential retail in Bristol could be closed while the rest of the country continued as normal.”

Whether Wales and England come out of the lockdown together, therefore, seems to me rather a moot point. From ‘Môn to Mynwy’ we are going to need a different approach, let alone from Llandudno to London.

Any pressure to do things differently in the name of flag-waving, Unionist or otherwise, or calls of ‘better together’ need to be resisted. Ultimately, a pandemic is no respecter of borders. It’s managed the leap from bat to pangolin to human so its host’s constitutional preferences aren’t going to perturb it. Our response needs to keep that in mind.

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Helen Lewis
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Helen Lewis

Quite so. We could start by getting rid of some of the more ludicrous aspects of the lockdown eg the criminalisation of anyone who has the nerve to take more than one kind of exercise during the day!

Ann Owen
Guest
Ann Owen

Actually in Wales you can take excercise twice a day, and it doesn’t have to be the same type.

Helen Lewis
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Helen Lewis

I’m not sure you’re right- unless it’s been changed yet again. I have a dog anyway who doesn’t understand the “rules”.

convention.cymru
Guest

Wales needs to look after Wales. For example, we could have different rules for Garden Centres and DIY shops. The logic for doing everything in step with England is this – Wales can maintain (and not endanger) its dependent status within the Welfare Union. Which is not a very inspiring reason. But Wales could equally take a more robust line – in line with medical science – and simply ditch most of the rules. We could be that part of the UK which makes the experiment, and opens up. Pretty low risk really. Or the more confident of us could… Read more »

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

At last the penny seems to have dropped – that different conditions may prevail in different places. At least IMJ has cottoned on. Has anyone from the Bay regime or the Westminster regime been similarly enlightened ? This is one of the core issues that brings complexity into the matter of lifting lockdown as well as how the on going crisis is managed . One size does not fit all.

stuart stanton
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stuart stanton

Correct, both Spain and France are using the localities method. In Wales it is very straightforward. Isle of Anglesey ideal as a pilot zone. Police keeping a strict lockdown on both bridges across the Menai.

John Ellis
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John Ellis

Thoroughly sensible and well-grounded assessment of where, right now, we appear to be at, and including an outline summary of how we’ve got here. And, indeed, of the factors that might guide where we go from here.

I’d just point out that Europe was barely touched by the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s, whereas South Korea – and, for that matter, Singapore and Taiwan too – were significantly affected, even though the bug was much less virulent and potentially fatal than Covid-19has proved to be. They learned from the experience; we didn’t because we never really had it.

Ann Owen
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Ann Owen

What would need urgent attention if this type of localised approach is taken is the nature of the border – both Wales/England and more localised travel-to-work-to-shop etc. How could we e.g. protect our communities and NHS services in all parts of Wales, including our rural areas, from travel-to or travel through traffic- be they for holidays, day-trips, shopping or indeed travel-to-work. How would we get the message through to e.g. Bristol or Manchester day-trippers to Pen-y-Fan or Snowdonia (referring to events last weekend) that they coudn’t be in certain localised areas even though the lockdown is lifted elsewhere? It seems… Read more »

Lawrence Marshall
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Lawrence Marshall

We need to lockdown in lockstep right across the UK. Unless we ban travel of more than, say, 20 miles. If, however, folk are still able to travel across the UK then it would be crazy to have differing regimes. And we need to seal the UK’s borders tight for months and months and months. And test and trace in the meantime.

I’d include Eire in this free travel area – provided they agree to the same rules. I’m pretty certain they would – which would provide a big boost to their otherwise pretty moribund tourism industry and allow cross-border trade.

Joe
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Joe

Results are logged by Centre not by persons address. Ceredigion doesn’t have access to a local test centres so some key workers have gone to Cardiff to be tested . Powys doesn’t have any hospitals so has the least number of deaths and Westminster have consistently denied or minimised the impact of the virus for different cohorts of population. We can’t rely on politicos or statistics to manage this situation, it will be robust scientific analysis , intelligent planning and community leadership. Wales has all of these , we just need the confidence ( and our own cash ) to… Read more »

Jonathan Edwards
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Jonathan Edwards

Yes it comes down to confidence. And you have to re-assess risk in the light of factors which evolve. So the risk-assessment might produce evolving results. Open instead of lock down. BUT we are stuck with politicos taking the decision. They are our elected leaders. They have legitimacy. “Robust” etc scientists and planners are not elected. Nor equipped by training or experience to judge how to run society. I’m not saying I like or admire most politicos. They are not very good at running society. The remedy is to vote for better ones. And probably you need to change the… Read more »

Aled Jones
Member

At the height of the crisis in Lombardy, the police sealed several areas — no travel in or out except for emergencies. A similar approach was taken in China. I wouldn’t suggest we should take the same approach in West Wales — where would you throw up your sanitary borders? But you could argue that the correct way of doing this is that restrictions could be lifted *within* an area, but that you would have to have a valid reason for entering the area. For example, since there doesn’t seem to be any community transmission in Ceredigion, why not lift… Read more »