In a televised address to the nation on March 23rd, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced unprecedented limits on where and how people can meet and gather during the Covid-19 pandemic. Lockdown of the UK officially started the next day.
The measures introduced were some of the most draconian the UK has ever experienced, however the majority of people have adhered to the strict guidelines, although their minds were firmly fixed on when they would be lifted.
On May 10th the Prime Minister provided a glimmer of hope for better times when he announced plans for exiting lockdown in England, and since May 13th some restrictions have been lifted for those living over the border. Meanwhile, the future here in Wales was still uncertain, and despite First Minister Mark Drakeford revealing his exit strategy on Friday (May 15th), the people of Wales are still left in the dark. The Welsh Government’s document is more of a roadblock than a roadmap to recovery. Rather than offering hope, ambition and a clear vision for the future, the strategy is vague and offers little clarity to the people of Wales. It fails to offer an even tentative timetable for the easing of restrictions in the way that other UK and European nations have, and it lacks the detail to provide confidence to people and businesses.
We need a plan to reopen society, get families back together and get our economy moving again, yet Wales was the last UK nation to publish its exit strategy and yet it is clear that the Welsh Government is still ‘behind the curve’, instead pursuing an incoherent approach to the easing of restrictions.
The Welsh Government’s strategy meets very few of the key proposals within the ‘Roadmap to Recovery’ that we, the Welsh Conservatives, published. The Welsh Government strategy provides no detail on when restrictions may be eased, no detail on key milestones to be established including testing and contact tracing capacity, and no detail on the setting up of ministerial-led taskforces to monitor the progress of the roadmap and to ensure accountability.
The First Minister also failed to provide any clear indication as to when schools will be reopening in Wales. Whilst we are all concerned for our children’s education, any decisions must be based on evidence to ensure that it is safe to do so.
It is vital that the future re-opening of schools does not result in a rapid increase of the spread of the virus within communities which could overwhelm the health service. Children and staff need to have access to adequate hygiene and other forms of protection, and measures must be in place to reduce contact between children and staff. However, the Welsh Government’s strategy does not offer the confidence that pupils, parents and teachers need that schools will have sufficient support to allow them to eventually re-open safely.
For lockdown measures to be eased effectively to reduce the risk of a second peak, as well as to avoid confusion, Wales must work in collaboration with the rest of the UK to develop a clear, consistent approach in easing the measures in a gradual manner. Instead of playing politics, Mark Drakeford needs to get a grip of the situation and work with the leaders of the other UK nations to strengthen Wales’ strategy to ultimately beat Coronavirus.