Roche named as company behind Welsh virus test deal collapse; NHS bed numbers double

(Title Image: Adrian Masters via Twitter)

In a UK first, the Senedd held a parliamentary plenary session entirely online yesterday which absolutely doesn’t need The Brady Bunch theme edited over it.

“I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the officials that have worked behind the scenes to make this meeting possible in the most extraordinary of circumstances and to do that in a very short space of time. Democratic accountability continues to be important, even in these most trying of times. Therefore, I want to thank everybody who’s taken part today in making sure that democracy is alive and well in Wales, and that we will look to repeat this for as long as we need to do so.”
– Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion)

First Minister: “We’re only at the foothills of the mountain” as coronavirus deaths expected to rise sharply over the coming weeks

Key Points:

  • There’s an expectation that the number of deaths and infections will continue to grow over the coming weeks and we were merely “at the foothills of the mountain”.
  • The Leader of the Opposition and Plaid Cymru leader have accepted invitations – in light of the “uniquely serious position we face” – to join the Welsh Government’s coronavirus cabinet committee.
  • There’s an agreement with the UK military to provide logistical assistance to civilian authorities should the need arise.
  • £24million has been made available to the Third/voluntary sector and £50million towards a food delivery scheme for the most vulnerable people; 81,000 people have been identified as needing to remain home for between 12-16 weeks and will be written to.
  • 30,000 have signed up to volunteer via local voluntary councils.
  • Free travel on buses doesn’t extend to social care staff due to difficulties identifying them, meaning it would be “over-onerous”.
  • Discussions are ongoing with supermarkets over a home shopping system for vulnerable people in Wales.
  • The Welsh Government are in close contact with Tata to prevent blast furnaces being shut down (which could lead to heavy-end steel production stopping altogether).

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) continued to press for an emergency supplementary budget to outline what changes have been made to the Welsh Government’s finances as only 25% of the £1.1billion worth of measures announced to date has come from the Welsh Government’s own resources; the rest has come from what remains of EU funding and the UK Government.

The First Minister confirmed that a supplementary budget would be introduced as soon as a timetable is sorted.

Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) sought clarity over the recent collapse of an agreement to provide virus tests for Wales and, since then, seen the UK Government take over sourcing virus tests for the whole UK, which will see Wales receive a per-head share (just under 5%) of any testing kits (even though around 8% of all identified coronavirus cases in the UK are in Wales).

“Is it your understanding that the catalyst for the deal collapsing may have been a similar deal with Public Health England? If that is the case, what confidence do you have in Public Health England – which has achieved, I believe, a lower level of testing so far than Wales (per-head) – in their procuring now on our behalf?”
– Adam Price AM

The First Minister confirmed that the Swiss company Roche pulled out of the deal – though the company denies this. He believes a coordinated approach across the UK was sensible so there wasn’t competition for scarce resources – though it doesn’t entirely prevent Wales seeking supplies on our own.

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth): 7,000 additional beds to be set up at field hospitals

Key points:

  • The equivalent of 7,000 additional beds are being set up by health boards at field hospitals – which is double the total number of current NHS beds in Wales. The Principality Stadium, Parc y Scarlets, Bluestone Resort (Pembrokeshire), Bay Studios (Llandarcy) and Venue Cymru (Llandudno) were listed as field hospitals.
  • ICU bed occupancy is at 40% as of Tuesday with 69% of those patients being confirmed coronavirus/covid-19 cases.
  • 600,000 respirator masks were delivered to health boards last weekend and further deliveries to local authorities were made earlier this week aimed for ongoing delivery to care homes.
  • 3,760 medical, nursing, healthcare science and allied health professional final year students will take up temporary full-time positions in the NHS. Locum GPs are being asked to consider temporary contracts with health boards.
  • Pharmacies should not charge for delivery of prescriptions to the homes of people who are unable to get prescriptions themselves or ask someone to get them on their behalf.

Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.) praised the quick action, particularly in sourcing so many extra beds in such a short space of time. The issue that’s caused the greatest concern is access to personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Minister accepted there was an “issue” with trust of the official guidance regarding the use of PPE (that it should be restricted to confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases). A rapid review of the guidance is being undertaken.

In response to a question from Neil McEvoy AM (WNP, South Wales Central) on the need to expand testing in the community, the Minister said that while there have been several approaches to the government each offer had to be considered on its effectiveness and value otherwise “we will potentially see ourselves burning up resources on (testing) kit that we don’t find to be effective”.

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd West): Businesses should only stay open if they can practice social distancing measures

Key Points:

  • The emergency business rate relief scheme came into effect as of yesterday.
  • Banc has received 500 requests for emergency loans and he’ll be meeting with high street banks today to urge them to be more flexible and considerate with clients.
  • Confirmation that the North-South air link will be suspended for three months and money has been provided to local authorities to honour school bus and local supported bus contracts to 75% of their value during the emergency period.
  • Any businesses staying open only do so if they’re able to continue working while practising social distancing and any business unable to do so should consider closing temporarily.

Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth), warned that local authorities may not be playing ball with the bus contract agreement as there’s no legal obligation for them to follow it through – though the Minister said he “would not respond happily” if he knew councils were choosing not to support bus companies on those terms.

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) asked for the Minister to contact businesses directly – in the same manner as letters sent to vulnerable people requiring them to stay inside – due to some confusion from businesses over what emergency schemes and programmes their eligible for.

In response to a question from Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) on non-essential businesses remaining open:

“….it’s important for a business to ask two questions. First of all, are they part of the essential effort to combat Covid-19? If they’re not, can they undertake work in a way in which allows social distancing to be practised at all times? If the answer is ‘yes’, then work may continue, but if the answer is ‘no’ then clearly their workers should not be put at risk, and if that means hibernating for the coronavirus period then so be it.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

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