First Minister says testing target “not needed”; more than 8,000 business support applications received

(Title Image: via Senedd TV)

If you’re looking for the “f**k up story”, it’s here.

First Minister: We’ll take action to stop travel to second homes; hospital virus cases “stable”

Key Points:

  • Travelling to second homes “isn’t an essential journey” and the Welsh Government will take (unspecified) measures to stop people from doing so.
  • An extra £40million has been provided for the adult social care sector and social care workers will be issued a card to properly identify themselves as critical workers.
  • An additional £1.25million has been made available for children’s’ mental health and free school meals will be guaranteed through the lockdown, administered by local authorities.
  • A grant scheme has been set up to cover the cost of fishing boats, while an online job scheme for people seeking work in agriculture, land management and veterinary work has launched.
  • A decision to ease lockdown restrictions will only be taken when the scientific and medical evidence says it’s safe to do so, learning from what’s happening in the rest of Europe where lockdown restrictions have been partially eased in some countries.
  • In a bit of good news, the number of new hospital admissions has fallen and the total number of virus cases in Welsh hospitals has remained stable.

The main concerns from the Senedd continue to remain access to virus tests and PPE.

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) welcomed the recent rapid review into testing capacity, but it was an acceptance that the Welsh Government had failed to hit previous targets of 8,000 then 5,000 tests a day. Additionally, over half of nursing staff have felt pressured to treat patients without adequate protective equipment.

The First Minister said some immediate steps have been taken by local government to improve access to tests for social care staff: “There will be more tests available by the end of this week than there were at the end of last week”.

Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) asked whether Wales was considering setting up a “mega lab” – as in England and Scotland – to carry out tens of thousands of virus test in one go.

When he was told by the First Minister that Wales had enough testing capacity, Adam Price asked, “How can you say that we have the necessary capacity when you’ve missed your own targets on tests three times in three weeks and now you’ve scrapped them?”

“I think the Member has to be careful not to mix up the different aspects of testing. He originally asked me about laboratories that were dealing with tests that had been carried out, and I repeat to him what I said: we don’t have any current deficit in our ability to process the tests that are being carried out and we have plans to increase that capacity when we need it.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

He went on to add that well-publicised criticisms from Sir Martin Evans didn’t represent the views of Cardiff University.

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth): We can carry out 1,800 tests a day

Key points:

  • “Significant work” has been undertaken to maintain supplies of PPE to frontline workers; 16.2million PPE items were distributed to the NHS and local authorities in the last week. The global market, however, remains unpredictable.
  • The current capacity enables 1,800 virus tests a day; 90% of those tested receive their results within two days.
  • The Welsh Government are taking part in Public Health England research on the risks posed by pre-existing health conditions and whether additional health advice needs to be given to particularly vulnerable groups such as people from minority ethnic groups (who have been proportionally harder-hit).
  • New guidance has been issued to children’s social services to minimise the impact of the pandemic. Social services departments are working as normal and the Minister encouraged people to report incidents of adults or children being abused.

Again, the main concerns from AMs revolved around testing and PPE. Opposition AMs were most critical of the decision to drop testing targets and the relatively low capacity for testing.

“We’ve been told again today that just over 20,000 people have been tested in Wales to date, but to put that in context: under original targets, we’d have tested 20,000 since Monday morning. Now, you wouldn’t have picked the original targets – 8,000+ a day by now out of the air; they’d have been based on advice. We know the World Health Organization advice is that testing is really a key part of the battle against coronavirus, so can you explain what change there has been in the advice that you are given on the value of testing because we’ve gone from that targeted 8,000 or 9,000 a day to around 1,000?”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)

The Minister said higher testing targets weren’t needed because social distancing measures have successfully slowed down infection rates. It was also worth noting delays in obtaining the required equipment and ingredients. He added that the military have provided “pointers” on how to improve the logistics of testing in Wales.

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) said the government shouldn’t “shoot the messenger” following Sir Martin Evans’ criticism of their response and we needed to ratchet up production of PPE within the UK. She also asked about the suitability of drive-through testing centres for those without access to a car – to which the Minister said we were “getting closer” to home testing through the development of home testing kits.

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd West): More than 8,100 applications for economic support funding

Key points:

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), said gaps in coverage still existed for some businesses – citing businesses not registered for VAT as an example. The Minister said that a model used by the Scottish Government to deal with these businesses is being considered for use in Wales.

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