THE First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford MS has warned of further, tougher measures on the horizon if the present worsening of the Covid-19 pandemic persists in Wales and if people do not continue to follow the rules by acting selfishly.
Speaking at his briefing today, Friday (Dec 11) the First Minister said that the situation in Wales has ‘worsened’ and ‘deteriorated’ further and that Covid-19 is now ‘firmly entrenched’ in many parts of Wales.
‘There is continued sustained pressure on the NHS’ he said, with over 1,900 people with Covid related cases in hospitals. He pointed out that these people would need considerable care and lengthy stays in hospitals stretching the NHS, which already has over 1,500 members of staff off ill.
Commenting on the recent announcement that schools are to move to online learning the First Minister said that all local authorities would have to provide hubs until the end of term for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. He also paid tribute to the tremendous work of teachers and staff at schools across Wales.
The First Minister also announced the closure of all outdoor attractions across Wales but quelled rumours of a nighttime curfew and a ban on sales of alcohol. Winter markets would not be closing he said.
Welsh Government have now published a revised plan, which includes four alert levels with the fourth level being the most serious.
The First Minister said that there were now 12,000 cases in Wales. “The best gift we can give our families this year is to have a Coronavirus free Christmas” he said.
We asked the First minister if in hindsight having tried so many options, some might say, too soft, too short, or too confusing, the time had come to concede that the carrot and stick approach has not worked with the people of Wales. Perhaps the Welsh Government now accept that the virus cannot realistically be contained by rules, restrictions and behavioural modifiers alone and that his efforts however valiant will have been merely to put off the inevitable phrase when one’s children’s actions lead to something going horribly wrong, ‘I did try to warn you, but you simply would not listen’.
He replied: “That is is a very sobering assessment of things and it is bleaker than my own because I still see in the bulk of people in Wales a wish to do the right thing, a wish to follow the rules. We tried to respond to some of the points you made by simplifying the rules by having a national set of rules so that it is easier for people to follow them.
“It is part of why we will publish the plan next week so that people can see in advance how we will make decisions in future. Where I agree with you and have agreed with you over a number of weeks is that government rules by themselves will not get us through this pandemic. There are so many things that Government can do and we have done more of that this week. In the end this only works if we can convince enough of our fellow citizens that they have a part that they can and need to play.”
Our second question was to ask: You have signalled the dangers week after week and you have urged the people of Wales to take responsibility for preventing or slowing down the spread of Coronavirus. You have relied on the advice of the medical establishment and behavioural scientists. You have been accused of losing your grip on Covid-19. What options are there left for you and would you be prepared to put sentimentality aside and get tougher?
The First Minister responded: “You are right. I am bound to explain that when I was answering questions possibly even one from you it was all about whether I had gone too far and what was the evidence for closing hospitality. This week we are having to do even more. I am absolutely sure we did the right thing last week in the light of the figures we have seen this week.
“So what we are doing in the health service, in schools, in outdoor entertainments, all of those are new measures this week. I don’t think that allowing people a brief and modest opportunity to celebrate Christmas together is just sentimentality. It is recognising that for many people this year has been an incredibly tough time where they have not been able to see people who matter the most to them for weeks and months on end. It’s an incredibly difficult balancing act between being realistic with people and serious with people and not pulling back from the difficulties of the situation we are in while still offering people some hope for the future. Because if you can’t offer people some hope then I think it is very difficult indeed for people to feel they can play the part we want them to play.
“There is a small period over Christmas with some modest relaxations that offer people some hope there. The vaccination programme started this week in Wales and has gone very well indeed in Wales together with the new mass testing regimes we have there is hope on the horizon. We have just got to get through this really tough and difficult patch together so that we are ready to take advantage of those glimmers of hope we can see in the New Year.”
The main messages from the First Minister were to reduce the number of people you see and mix with and to use the five days of freedoms over Christmas responsibly.
The First Minister spoke of a conversation he had with a primary school child. He said: “I did a session yesterday with a group of primary school children in Wales and one of them said to me; “It is the small acts of selfishness that are getting us into the trouble that we are in.”