Ministers update Senedd on coronavirus response

(Title Image: Public Health Wales)

With the Senedd’s schedule reduced to only time-sensitive and coronavirus-related matters until at least the end of April, Ministers are set to update AMs weekly (Easter recess aside) on latest pandemic developments in Wales.

Economy & Transport – Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South)

Key points:

  • Any affected businesses should contact the Business Wales telephone helpline (03000 603000) for practical advice; it’ll act as a “one-stop-shop” and direct businesses to UK-wide help too.
    Banc can provide immediate equity finance and loans to help businesses facing cash flow problems.; businesses receiving Banc finance will have a three-month capital repayment holiday.
  • A series of measures on expanded business rate relief and a £100million grant scheme for small businesses was announced yesterday – link.
  • Rail passenger numbers have already fallen 18% on some routes; contingency plans are being considered for shortages of staff and services. Bus drivers and depot workers have been issued hand sanitiser.
  • The Minister remains “in regular contact” with Cardiff Airport as scores of flights are cancelled, though the airport carries less debt than other airports.

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery) welcomed measures from Business Wales and Banc, but questioned if they would have the capacity to deal with extra loans and alike. There are also many businesses which don’t pay business rates that need additional support or fall just short of the rate relief boundaries the Welsh Government has set (though this is what the small business grant scheme is aimed at).

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) raised the matter of business continuity insurance. There’s some confusion over whether an official order for businesses to close would make them eligible to claim on the insurance.

Several AMs raised concerns particular to businesses in their communities, with the hospitality and tourism sectors being especially hard-hit, as well as those who are self-employed. Several AMs also called for some form of temporary universal income.

Health

Due to a slight technical problem….


….the Health section was taken by the First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West).

Key points:

  • Wales and the UK have moved from “contain” to “delay”, meaning attempts will be made to slow the spread of Covid-19 and lower peak demand on the NHS, pushing cases into the summer when extra treatment capacity is available.
  • Anyone who develops a high fever or persistent cough should stay at home for 7 days; they SHOULD NOT go to a GP, pharmacy or hospital and should only contact 111 if the symptoms get so severe that they can’t cope. If anyone in a household develops symptoms, the entire household should self-isolate for 14 days.
  • All non-urgent outpatient appointments and operations have been postponed to allow staff to be redeployed and trained. Testing will focus on those admitted to hospital and frontline staff – not every suspected case.
  • People over the age of 70 and those with underlying health conditions should actively practice social distancing – minimising unnecessary contact with other people.

The main issues raised by AMs were the testing regime, the impact of self-isolation on the elderly and school closures – though the latter was answered earlier today with the announcement that Easter holidays have been brought forward to this coming Friday.

Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.) said widespread testing had caused a big drop in virus cases in South Korea – though the First Minister said there were sophisticated models used based on the number of people presenting in intensive care which gives health authorities an idea of how many cases there are in the community.

Local Government & Housing – Julie James (Lab, Swansea West)

Key points:

  • Supermarket delivery hours have been relaxed to help maintain supplies and help to restock.
  • Officials are working with local authorities and other organisations to bring forward proposals to get rough-sleepers off the streets and into isolation where necessary.
  • Used tissues and other personal waste should be put inside in another bag and ideally set aside for at least 72 hours (to kill the virus) before being put into normal black-bag waste.
  • Local authority by-elections are set to be postponed in the UK’s emergency powers law.
  • Helplines are set to be put in place to help people in self-isolation.
  • Landlords with buy-to-let mortgages will be asked to pass on the 3-month mortgage holiday announced by the UK Government to tenants.

The main message coming out of the statement was that while the volume of people coming forward – or thinking of doing so – as volunteers is commendable, it had to be done in a controlled manner, probably coordinated through local government. Issues such as dealing with excess fatalities were still being discussed with the WLGA.

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) asked a number of questions relating to addressing possible loneliness amongst those self-isolating as well as support for people who can’t self-isolate – such as the homeless and those whose homes were still damaged from recent flooding.

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