Wales said to have moved past the virus peak, early talks on post-pandemic recovery

(Title Image: via Senedd TV)

Before the summary of yesterday’s virtual Senedd plenary session, two big stories emerged from this afternoon’s virtual Health & Social Care Committee session.

Firstly, it was confirmed by Public Health Wales officials that the UK Government “appropriated” 5,000-virus tests-a-day which the Welsh Government had discussed/agreed with the Swiss company, Roche. Virus testing in Wales remains at a rate below 1,000-a-day.

Secondly, Public Health Wales said they weren’t aware of a 9,000-tests-a-day target publicly set by the Welsh Government for mid-April (and was subsequently dropped).

First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West): “We’re moving past the peak”

Key Points:

  • The number of newly recorded coronavirus cases in Wales each day is consistently below 200 and there are now fewer than 70 people in critical care with the virus.
  • Virus testing capacity has increased to 2,100-a-day and eight mobile testing units will be deployed for care home testing based on recently-announced revised guidelines.
  • A group is working to understand the impact on ethnic minority communities, which have been proportionally harder-hit than the rest of the population.
  • Additional funding has been given to local authorities so they can continue to provide free school meals until the end of August or whenever schools reopen.
  • A £500 bonus/solidarity payment will be paid to all social care staff.
  • Ideally, the UK nations will loosen lockdown restrictions at the same time – though if this was wrong for Wales then the Welsh Government won’t do it.

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.), was pleased the Welsh Government changed their minds on care home testing, but he asked for publication of the clinical evidence which led to the Welsh Government’s original reluctance to test in care homes – though the First Minister listed a number of studies from around the world upon which that policy was based.

Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) thought the decision was down to a simple lack of testing capacity, which was resulting in smaller care homes being overlooked for testing in favour of larger care homes with 50 or more residents.

There were several questions on the NHS track and trace phone app currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight. The Conservatives were supportive of Wales taking part, but both the First Minister and Delyth Jewell MS (Plaid, South Wales East) voiced concerns over the data and technical aspects of it, which has seen the UK work out of kilter with the rest of the world.

The First Minister hoped these data privacy problems would be addressed so he could recommend the app.

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South): Recession “is unavoidable”

Key points:

  • Economies around the world are showing record economic downturns; he believes a major recession is now unavoidable but efforts need to be made to avoid it turning into a prolonged depression.
  • 700 applications for business support from the Welsh Government are processed and approved daily.
  • The Development Bank’s pandemic loan scheme was fully subscribed (1,600 applications) in a week when they usually deal with 400 applications a year. This support will safeguard 4,500 jobs.
  • The UK Government are “looking again” at their decision not to support Holyhead for UK-Irish ferry transport.

With news that GE’s plant at Nantgarw could see job losses, Mick Antoniw MS (Lab, Pontypridd) asked what support the Welsh Government was willing to provide?

The Minister described the Welsh Government as a “loyal friend” to GE having given financial support and other advice. The government were determined to support GE through this period – though he warned that the aerospace industry, a major employer in Wales, is likely to be damaged for years “if not decades” to come.

Minister for International Relations & Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan (Lab, Mid & West Wales): UK starts US trade deal talks

Key points:

  • All of the Welsh Government’s overseas offices have been involved in efforts to repatriate Welsh people stuck abroad.
  • 80 countries have export restrictions in place, making it more difficult to source things like PPE from abroad – which is already leading to difficulties sourcing paracetamol.
  • The UK Government is determined to finalise an EU trade deal by the end of 2020 (despite the pandemic) and trade talks with the United States have started.
  • Microsoft has been contacted in order to develop simultaneous translation for Microsoft Teams.

“I did have a discussion yesterday with Greg Hands, who’s the Minister responsible for the negotiation with the US on that new free trade agreement. I did emphasise the importance of making sure that those standards that we hold dear are adhered to, but that the language in the negotiation mandate is pretty vague and….we think it should be tightened up. I think it’s important that they understand….that we do want to make sure that we stick to these high environmental standards, animal welfare standards, labour standards, and consumer standards.”
– Minister for International Relations & Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan

Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath): Discussions start on the post-pandemic recovery

Jeremy Miles was recently named as the Minister in charge of overseeing the recovery from the pandemic.

Key Points:

  • Initial discussions have taken place with “world-leading experts” on how to approach the pandemic recovery, particularly how to maintain the environmental benefits which have resulted from the lockdown.
  • There needs to be an open public debate on the “kind of Wales we want” and in particular the newfound value of particular types of work which have been overlooked until now (“key workers”).
  • Another key part of the recovery is digital delivery of public services, though digital exclusion is “at the heart and soul” of those discussions and will impact the delivery of things like video consultations with GPs.

“People who can work from home may choose to do that more in the future than they have. That may do something to where people choose to live. If people don’t feel they have to be in such close commuting distance, then the distribution of habitation may change, and that may also pose pressures in the future on broadband distribution. So, there are quite big challenges there.”
– Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles

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