FMQs: No plans yet to cut 2-metre social distancing in Wales; FM rules out expert-led Rhondda flood inquiry

After several months, First Minister’s Questions made a return this afternoon as the Senedd starts to make the first steps towards normal business.

More grumbling about “five-mile rule”; decision on 2 metres social distancing “will be based on evidence”

One thing the Conservatives have been very loud about over the last month is the so-called “five-mile rule” – strong guidance that people in Wales should stay local. With further lifting of restrictions having been announced in England, it was inevitable the Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.) would raise it again.

“Non-essential businesses have been allowed to resume trading, and as people are able to travel more than five miles to visit a garden centre, it still begs the question why they cannot see their loved ones. Therefore, can you tell us, First Minister, what specific scientific evidence do you have as a Government to keep the five-mile rule in place?”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS

The First Minister repeated that there is no “rule”, it’s guidance; there’s no regulation stating that people shouldn’t or couldn’t travel further than five miles from home, it’s simply giving the public an idea of what “staying local” means in practice. People are still able to travel further than that if they have a compassionate reason to do so.

Asking people to stay local has “been a very important part of our armoury to prevent the spread of the virus from one community to another”. However, the First Minister couldn’t provide any specific evidence supporting it.

When pressed on whether the Welsh Government would consider following England in cutting the 2 metres social distancing rule to 1 metre, the First Minister did cite evidence from the scientific advisory body SAGE that halving the distance from 2 metres increases the risk of Covid-19 transmission by two to five times. Any decision to cut the distance in Wales will be based on evidence.

First Minister accepts woodland creation figures “not good enough”; rules out expert-led Rhondda flooding inquiry

While Wales and the world were facing two crises in health and economics, Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) brought up the third crisis is ecology, pointing to last week’s flooding in the Rhondda. Tree planting was one way to deal with the increased risk of flooding from climate change, but:

“Almost a decade ago, the Welsh Government adopted the ambitious and widely lauded target of planting 5,000 hectares of new woodland every year, until 2030. This target was dropped to 2,000 hectares. In the last five years, the Welsh Government has achieved an average of just 300 hectares a year, and in the 12 months up until March this year, it achieved just 80 hectares – 4% of the target. First Minister, where is the urgency in the climate emergency?”
– Adam Price MS

The First Minister – whose leadership manifesto included a pledge to create a National Forest – accepted this wasn’t good enough, but the tree planting budget has been quadrupled despite cuts to Natural Resources Wales’ budget.

When Adam Price asked whether a formal expert-led inquiry should be undertaken into the causes behind the Rhondda flooding, the First Minister said Rhondda Cynon Taf Council and NRW will take the lead on that as part of legal responsibilities following any flooding incident.

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