“WE face a virus which is cruel and relentless, especially in its pursuit of the most vulnerable.
“As cases rise again and pressure on our NHS increases, we need further national effort. We’ll work with partners this weekend to finalise arrangements and major financial support.”
That was the main message from the First Minister of Wales today, Friday (Nov 27) during his briefing.
The First Minister said that the numbers of Covid cases were beginning to rise again across Wales and that the advantages of the firebreak have begun to fade. He said that 16 out of the 22 local authorities had seen a rise in cases over a rolling seven-day period.
There are now 187 cases per 100,000 population when it was 160 last week. “It shows how quickly it can change.” He said.
The First Minister said that each and every death represented a family grieving and that there had been an increase in cases in the under 25’s.
He gave the latest R number as around 1.4.
The First Minister reiterated the need to protect the NHS, which he said was under ‘sustained pressure’. He said that there were 1,700 people with Covid in hospitals across Wales whereas it was around 400 in September. “We cannot claim freedoms for ourselves at the expense of their welfare and wellbeing.” He said.
The first Minister urged the people of Wales to act together. He reiterated the different approach to the pandemic in Wales when fielding questions from journalists. He thanked everyone and said 2020 had been a long and difficult year but that there was hope on the horizon in 2021 with potential vaccines.
The main questions from the press surrounded the restrictions on hospitality venues, which come into force next Friday. He stated that cinemas, bowling alleys and theatres would close. He also suggested that a firebreak was not likely before Christmas.
We asked the First Minister: Given that the May elections are the pinnacle of democracy in Wales and we have seen how the USA conducted their elections during the pandemic. Does the First Minister agree that the election must not be delayed and that the people of Wales should be given every opportunity to vote in person or by postal vote and given the possible long term situation of Covid-19 a move to establishing an online voting system?
He replied: “I am very committed to having an election in May. It has been five years since we had the last election and the Senedd needs a democratic refresh.
“It is right that the decisions about who is put into the Senned are made by people here in Wales. We will be doing more as a government to promote the use of postal votes. My fear about May is simply is that if coronavirus were to be back again and we were seeing another upswing of it. I do not want people to be put off from voting because they are fearful of going to a polling station.
“The best way to avoid that is to get postal vote, you can always walk with postal vote on the day. You don’t miss out by having a postal vote, we will be promoting that and I know local authorities will be doing that too.
“We have been talking about whether we could extend opening hours for polling stations, not more hours on the one day of polling but opening them for a few days before the normal Thursday.
“I have had a series of conversations with young people about whether we should have online voting. There are Parts of Europe that conduct all of their elections online. People can vote for almost anything on their phones.
“The truth is that at this point the systems are not secure enough, the back up that you would need isn’t what it would need to be to give everybody confidence that if they press a button on their phone that vote is genuinely being registered. I am anxious not to find ourselves in the American position where doubts can be cast on legitimate elections. I think the future is very likely to involve more online opportunities than we have seen in the past.”
We focussed on a local issue and asked the First Minister: At a time when community has never been more important Carmarthenshire, county council proposes to close two small schools in Carmarthenshire. One is in Blaenau Ammanford and the other in Mynyddygarreg. Both are areas of depravation and have suffered the loss of major industries and community facilities. In Mynyddygarreg they have lost every facility, which would otherwise bind a community together apart from the local school. The move would add 610 car journeys per week with cars having to cross a busy bypass. Walking to school is not an option and cycling would be perilous given that there is no safe route to the proposed new school. Would the First Minister study the proposals with a view to ensuring the villagers have a chance at saving the school?
The First Minister responded: “I am not familiar with the proposals in Mynyddygarreg. We have changed the rules during this Senedd term so that the presumption is that small rural schools stay open. The Local authority doesn’t have a level playing field. It positively has to make the arguments as to why those schools should close. It doesn’t mean that all rural schools will always stay open because sometimes there will be a case that a local authority can mount as to why that school should close. The presumption is that they stay open and that will be the case in Mynyddygarreg and Blaenau as well.”
Watch the briefing here: