THE First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford MS has delivered the news many in Wales would have been dreading, that Wales faces another three weeks of restrictions before another review. There were slight changes and mentions of possible further adaptions in the weeks and months to come.
Asked by BBC journalist Felicity Evans what the numbers needed to be in order to lift restrictions the First Minister said that Welsh Government would make a judgement in the round to include the number of cases per 100,000 in the population, the R number, positive test rates and the impact on hospitals.
Those numbers were improving across Wales according to the First Minister who said that there were now 84 cases per 100,000 in the population. The R number is falling and there were 1,800 in hospital with Covid related symptoms he said.
Vaccination was also ‘making progress’ said the First Minister. “840,000 people in Wales have already had the first dose and 25,000 have had the second dose,” he said.
Mr Drakeford said that the Welsh Government were ‘on track’ for the next milestone, which is to vaccinate people in the 5 to 9 category if supplies of vaccine were on course.
The First Minister said that there was ‘headroom’ for some changes including getting young children back to school. It was Welsh Government’s ‘top priority’, he said.
There were scraps of hope sprinkled out for the tourism and hospitality sectors as well as elite athletes.
The changes included:
From Monday 22 February, children aged three to seven will begin returning to schools in a phased way, while some vocational learners on courses that require practical learning, will return to college.
Following the latest review of coronavirus restrictions, the Welsh Government also announced some minor changes to the current rules:
From Saturday 20th February, four people from two different households will be able to meet outdoors for socially distanced local exercise. This doesn’t apply to private gardens.
From March 1, the law will be changed to allow licensed wedding venues, such as visitor attractions and hotels, to re-open but only to perform wedding and civil partnership ceremonies.
Sport Wales will make arrangements for more of our talented athletes to resume training and playing.
With more people living and working in older people’s care homes being vaccinated, we will look again at our guidance for care home visiting.
We asked the First Minister if he accepted the blame being heaped on him by his political opponents and if it affected him personally and whether he envisaged a backlash from the people of Wales at the next Senedd elections in May.
The First Minister said: “The job of the opposition is to scrutinise the government. In a national crisis I think sensible oppositions try to do that in a constructive way. I don’t think blame is a particularly helpful way of trying to get us all through the crisis. Quite honestly I don’t think it resonates with the public as well. The public expect politicians to try and work together as much as possible in order to combat a common crisis.
“I meet every week with the leader of Plaid Cymru and the leader of the opposition the conservative party and if I don’t meet them a colleague of mine from the cabinet does to try and keep them in touch with the evidence we are seeing.
“Do attacks have an affect on me personally? Well, I think it’s just part of the job really isn’t it. So long as I can get up in the morning and know that I myself am doing the job as best as I can and at the end of the day think that I have done the best that I can for people in Wales then that allows me to carry on. What people in Wales will make of it when they go to the ballot box in May; it will be for them to decide.
“On the whole I think we have continued to secure the support of the bulk of mainstream opinion here in Wales behind the way that the Welsh Government has dealt with this pandemic. And the pandemic will not be over after May. I think many people will stare at the ballot paper and ask themselves whether they think that this is the right moment to be changing government during a continued public health crisis.”
We highlighted some of the difficulties some people faced in rural Wales and asked if this was as good as it gets in Wales and if more investment in health services was imminent to address some of those issues.
The First Minister replied: “I definitely agree that more investment is going to be needed in the health service. The health service has a recovery period in front of it as well. We know that Coronavirus has meant that normally what the health service would have done have not been possible.
“We know that the staff themselves in the health service are going to need a period of recovery from the enormous stresses and strains they have been under. So more investment, yes, absolutely to put that health service back on its feet and to be fit for the future.
“In the interim I was speaking to some people from Carmarthen yesterday as it happens having some connections in that part of the world. They explained to me how they had gone for vaccination and actually they both reported it being a very smooth, very well organised service . I know myself if I go to the doctor, luckily I don’t need to do it but if I go to my own GP you do have to wait outside. In the current circumstances they are having to take extra precautions to make sure that the service is being safely offered and that means you cannot sit in a waiting room with lots of other people who are ill so I am afraid there are some accommodations that are just necessary given the scale of the problem that we face.
“The future needs to be one of proper investment, proper recovery and a health service, which has demonstrated over the last twelve months its fundamental worth in the lives of us all.”
The First Minister concluded by saying that he needed help to keep Wales safe and for people to work together to stop the spread of the virus and keep infections down. He said he was ‘looking forward to seeing the green shoots of spring’.