(Title Image: Howells Solicitors)
Here’s the latest round-up of latest ministerial statements on coronavirus (and other topical matters).
First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West): Welsh BAME history museum “will be looked at”
- The number of new coronavirus cases continues to fall in Wales along with hospital admissions. There are now only 40 patients in critical care because of coronavirus, compared to a peak of 164 in April 2020.
- The number of new positive test results is also falling with 651 people testing positive last week (compared to the 600 contract tracers recruited to track and trace).
- Evidence on face coverings has been reviewed, resulting in the recommendation of the use of face coverings (including non-medical coverings) on public transport.
- The first phase of mass care home testing has been completed, with all care home residents and staff set to be tested each week for the next four weeks.
- A law to reform the governance arrangements for universities has been dropped and will be published as a draft Bill instead.
- More than 23,000 children gave their views on the pandemic via the Children’s Commissioner’s survey, with the main concern being loneliness resulting from lack of contact with friends and family.
Turning to the Black Lives Matter protests, Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) said the time was right for a Wales-wide review of how slavery and colonialism have been celebrated through national and local monuments.
Also, given that the Welsh Government funds museums dedicated to different industrial communities, was the time right – given recent plans for a military medicine museum in Cardiff – for a museum dedicated to BAME history, which should include information about Wales’ role in colonialism and slavery?
The First Minister stressed the importance of learning from our past, not simply blindly celebrating it. Local authorities are working to decide whether some public displays should be in museums as educational tools rather than venerated. The Welsh Government has already committed to national football and modern art museums and he was “very happy to commit to looking at” a museum of Welsh BAME history.
Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.), continued to push for a more rapid lifting of lockdown restrictions. While some businesses have been told to make preparations for reopening, there’s been little engagement by the Welsh Government with the property and motor retail sectors to name a few.
Additionally, the First Minister’s recent comments that tourism could effectively remain closed for the whole summer “were met with some anger and frustration by some tourism operators across the country, who, understandably, fear that this could lead to the collapse of the Welsh tourism sector.”
The First Minister said the decision to keep lockdown in place was providing enough headroom for a lifting of restrictions because the number of new cases was falling – but those new freedoms still have to be exercised carefully through social distancing. He didn’t rule out some tourism activity resuming this year:
“I wanted to give an indication that there is some hope for (the tourism) sector, too, and that there are some ways in which we might yet be able to resume some tourism activity during the current season, but it will have to be….with safety at the forefront of our thinking.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford
Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South): Second phase of economic resilience fund set to open on 29th June
- Talks are continuing on reopening the economy whilst balancing it with public health and safety – though Welsh Government advice to different sectors shouldn’t be considered a replacement for full legal advice.
- The Minister welcomed the UK Government’s decision to extend the furlough scheme. However, he’s presenting a case to them for full support for businesses that can’t reopen. Also, as an alternative to tapering furlough payments, the number of employees allowed to return to work should be gradually increased.
- Applications for the second phase of the Economic Resilience Fund are set to open on June 29th 2020 with £100million available to qualifying businesses.
- A BAME expert panel led by Prof. Emmanuel Ogbonna is looking at how Covid-19 has adversely affected minority groups; the panel’s work will help shape the post-pandemic economic recovery plan.
- The Minister had concerns about the future of the aerospace sector and some regional airports, as little support has been provided to the sector by the UK Government when compared to France (£12billion) and Hong Kong to Cathay Pacific (£4billion).
- There are no regulations in Wales preventing zoos from reopening, they’ve had to close because of lack of footfall.
Helen Mary Jones MS (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) spoke about support for home-based businesses and start-ups which have previously been ineligible for support. Also, she hoped that employers won’t be expected to pressurise employees – who may be shielding because of vulnerable household members – to return to work if/when lockdown restrictions are eased further.
The Minister hoped support for all forms of businesses will run alongside each other from June 29th. It was also right that employers act with compassion and understanding, as it was clear that shielding individuals shouldn’t be expected to return to work.
Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George MS (Con, Montgomery) said Welsh retailers – particularly those along the border – may be disadvantaged when English retailers open next Monday. Some businesses in Wales were also opening contrary to Welsh regulations. He asked what local authorities have been told about enforcement because it was “absolutely unfair” that some businesses were flouting rules openly when others were abiding by the rules.
The Minister explained that businesses in Wales have an advantage because the Welsh Government says precisely when they review lockdown regulations (every three weeks). He also asked businesses to think carefully before reopening, as it may work against their self-interest as 60% of people in Wales are still reluctant to venture out, meaning it’s harder for such businesses to remain viable if they do reopen.
International Affairs & Welsh Language Minister, Eluned Morgan (Lab, Mid & West Wales): Welsh Government “shocked and angered” at George Floyd killing
- The Welsh Government is “shocked and angered” at the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police and the draconian response from the US Government; while not having the power to challenge the actions of other nations directly, there’s a moral obligation to speak out against racism, quoting the Health Minister: “We must challenge racism, inequality and injustice wherever we find it, including right here at home.”
- The “worrying” situation in Hong Kong is being monitored by overseas officials.
- The UK Government has offered assurances that food standards won’t be lowered as part of a potential trade deal with the United States and the Welsh Government intends to hold them to that.
- 8,300 people have joined National Centre for Learning Welsh classes during the lockdown and The Urdd’s message of peace and goodwill on 18th May reached 37million people around the world in 57 different languages.
The Minister largely went over points similar to those raised in earlier sessions, but added this concerning the tourism sector:
“We know that the (tourism) industry would like us to provide a date as to when the industry can resume, but we’ve said consistently that we’ll be driven by the science, and not by dates, and will only ease restrictions when the medical advice says it’s safe for us to do so.”
– International Affairs & Welsh Language Minister, Eluned Morgan