FMQs: No movement yet on school closures

Key health workers to be prioritised for virus testing; no movement yet on school closures

With Adam Price one of several AMs self-isolating, Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) was standing in. Plaid Cymru was calling for the Welsh Government to follow World Health Organisation advice and increase testing for coronavirus/Covid-19 to break the chain of infection?

The First Minister confirmed that key clinical workers would be tested to ensure they can return to work as quickly as possible, but generally he deferred to the advice of the Chief Medical Officer:

“Their advice yesterday….is that this is not the point in the progress of the disease where using considerable resources for mass testing is the most effective way of putting safeguards in place. Now, other people may disagree, I understand that, but what I am saying is is that I don’t have a choice but to follow the advice of those people who we employ to advise us. If I move away from that, then the rock on which the advice that I provide to people in Wales and the health service has been kicked away from under us, and I will not do that.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

Another issue is school closures. Rhun said it was now a matter “of when, not if” – though the First Minister maintains that the position of the four UK governments is for schools to remain open, with that position under constant review. If schools were to close, arrangements would need to be put in place for children living in poverty who rely on free school meals as well as childcare for children of key workers.

Intensive care capacity “can double” in an emergency

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), concentrated on the impact coronavirus will have on businesses and the general public mood, particularly given panic buying which has resulted in empty shelves and denying people access to basic staples. What was the Welsh Government doing to ensure supplies keep moving and can reach the most vulnerable? He also asked for an update on intensive care capacity.

The First Minister noted that crises bring out the good and bad in people. On a positive note, he said Wales was somewhat ready because of No Deal Brexit planning and some of the measures that would have/will be used for that have been introduced for coronavirus.

“….we are working closely with our local authority colleagues and our colleagues in the third sector to make sure that we put a bit of a system around the offers of help that we know are there in Wales so people know where to go to access the help that can be made available to them. We will be meeting tomorrow with representatives of those sectors and with community councils as well.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford

He added there was “surge capacity” in the Welsh NHS to double the number of intensive care beds to around 280 (from 138) if needed. That may not be enough though and alternatives are being considered; one of the reasons routine operations have been cancelled is to free up equipment for intensive care.

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