First Minister: People should stay local for outdoor meetings; 5-miles is a guideline, not a rule

(Title Image: via Senedd TV)

Here’s the latest round-up of latest ministerial statements on coronavirus.

First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West): Stay local when visiting another household

Key points:

  • 2,122 people in Wales have died from confirmed or suspected Covid-19 as of May 22nd. The conditions in Wales allowed for an easing of lockdown restrictions at the start of this week, but this was no guarantee that lockdown will be eased in the same way across the UK at the same time.
  • People should continue to observe social distancing (keeping 2 metres from other people) and regular hand-washing despite fatigue starting to set in.
  • He called for greater financial flexibility from the UK Government to enable the Welsh Government to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Welsh Government guidance on workplace safety and coronavirus has been welcomed by the CBI and TUC.
  • The Chief Medical Officer will write to all shielding groups (people advised to stay at home due to underlying health conditions) to tell them how recent easing of lockdown restrictions affects them; the First Minister believes it was right to allow shielding groups to go outside under specific conditions, but they shouldn’t feel obliged to do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
  • The £500 bonus for social care workers will be taxed despite pleas from the Welsh Government for the UK Treasury to exempt it.

The Conservatives have publicly criticised the “5-mile-rule” in the latest lockdown restrictions. Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.), believed it was a sign that the Welsh Government didn’t care about rural Wales seeing as people would often have to travel more than 5 miles to reach another town or village, plus it was confusing people.

The First Minister stressed that the 5-mile-rule doesn’t exist in the strictest sense; it’s a guideline and the advice is for people to “stay local” – which will mean different things in urban and rural Wales. The guideline is there to protect rural areas from people who would otherwise travel long distances and potentially carry the virus with them.

The one non-virus-related topic for discussion is the protest against police killings in the United States, which have prompted protests in solidarity in Wales.

Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) noted examples of structural racism in Wales, including a higher death rate from Covid-19 amongst certain ethnic minorities (BMEs). BMEs were also imprisoned at a higher rate in Wales than whites. Would the First Minister commit to an inquiry into structural racism?

The First Minister accepted that racism of this kind wasn’t restricted to the United States and BMEs face disadvantages that have to be grappled within Wales. Whilst not committing to an inquiry, he said the record of BME public appointments in Wales wasn’t good enough and it was something the Welsh Government was actively looking at as one example.

Health & Social Services Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth): All care homes will be tested “within two weeks”

Key points:

  • While the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and fatalities continues to fall, there has to be a careful and cautious approach to prevent a second wave of infections.
  • Cancer, cardiac and ophthalmology are amongst some of the essential services prioritised to restart where they haven’t already been restarted.
  • 97% of patients and 85% of clinicians ranked virtual consultation services as either “excellent” or “good”.
  • The national “track and trace” service started on 1st June and anyone who’s tested positive for coronavirus will be contacted and asked for details of all people they’ve been with; 600 tracers have been recruited so far (see more: Who will train the tracers?).

Testing in care homes continues to be a major point of concern amongst MSs. Shadow Social Care Minister, Janet Finch-Saunders MS (Con, Aberconwy), told the Minister that three weeks since his announcement that testing in care homes would be expanded, some care homes were still waiting for tests to take place.

The Minister gave a timescale of two weeks:

“All care homes will be tested within the next two weeks. Some health boards think they may have that test within the next week to 10 days. Others will be slightly later, but, within the next two weeks, I expect all care homes, residents and staff to have been tested. That’s a deliberate policy choice we made, and I think that the time that it will have taken to do so compares well with every other UK nation, including England….where I understand that about six in 10 care homes are yet to be tested.”
– Health & Social Services Minister, Vaughan Gething

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS (Plaid, Ynys Môn) raised the matter of face masks. Research in The Lancet has suggested face masks could play a role in keeping Covid-19 transmission rates at a low level. 50 countries now make the wearing of face masks in public compulsory to varying degrees. When will the Welsh Government issue face mask guidance? Would he consider a campaign to encourage people to make their own face masks?

The advice given to the Welsh Government remains that there would be a “limited benefit” to the widespread use of face masks, though the Minister didn’t rule anything out depending on where the scientific and medical evidence leads. There was a difference between the medical-grade PPE face masks used by the NHS and homemade face coverings; he didn’t rule anything out there either, adding that he didn’t expect the government to be able to provide medical-grade face masks to the entire population.

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