Centre for Welsh Studies Director – Matthew MacKinnon:
In this short opinion piece, I want to outline a few key policies the Welsh Government could implement to help revive the Welsh economy, whilst simultaneously protecting our most vulnerable in society and giving freedom back to large swathes of the population.
Two and a half weeks ago, Boris Johnson announced England was moving to a stay ‘alert phase’ and would be moving away from ‘stay at home’, and the Prime Minister has over these two and a half weeks made announcements about the slow and phases reopening of the English economy.
Here in Wales, we are no closer to understanding what is happening, we are still in lockdown and It seems the First Minister and his Government made their decision just to show Boris that they can flex their muscles and show him who calls the shots when it comes to Wales.
The decision to break away from the Prime Ministers strategy has caused much confusion. Professors at the London School of Economics have recently released that they have found that the differing lockdown rules are ‘confusing the public’.
This confusion can be dealt with, if the Welsh Government deal with this it in a nuanced manner, this is not a black and white issue and needs to be handled appropriately. This weekend will have seen Wales in lockdown for three weeks more than England, the First Minister has the opportunity to lead the way with a balanced approach.
The First Minister should announce:
1 – Move to a ‘stay alert’ phase: This would end the current confusion with the general public and would help to make people feel that their sacrifice to flatten the curve has worked, which it has.
2 – Reward emotional sacrifice: For many people in relationships they have not seen their partners in almost three months, this has tended to be younger people and those who are in new relationships. The Government should show some compassion and let people reunite without feeling they are breaking the rules.
3 – Get the young back to work: All people under 35 with no underlying health conditions should return to work if they cannot work from home. Under 35s are highly, highly unlikely to die from the virus if fit and healthy and the Government statistics have shown this. This must be done properly, if a young individual lives with a vulnerable person then they have to take that factor into account.
4 – Start to reopen the economy: Begin to re-open small independent shops and retail units, give people back their livelihoods and get people back to work. This would give people a sense of normality in their lives and would be good for the morale and economic future of the country.
5 – Get Covid-19 out of hospitals: With the virus rapidly in decline, surely now is the time to ensure that the small number of patents are moved to the specially designed field hospitals to ensure that we can get Covid-19 out of our hospitals and get people with cancer and other illnesses seen too quickly.
6 – Get our hospitality sector back up and running: Look to reopen bars, café’s and eateries that can facilitate customers at a safe social distance. Jobs in hospitality have been devastated due to the virus and has disproportionally effected those most financially vulnerable in society the most. Re-opening would also give a sense of normality back to the public which is must needed.
7 – Physical health: Reopen gyms, leisure centres and other health/sporting facilities: It has been shown throughout this crisis how important it is to be fit and healthy to combat the virus, keeping people away from playing sport and working out is counterproductive in the long term and this should be a top priority. A healthy nation is a happy nation.
All of these areas can be re-opened in a safe, socially distanced manner, with hygiene a top priority. Humanity has adapted throughout this crisis and will continue to do so as we phase out of lockdown.
Ultimately, we need to start to look at the data. Those under 35 are not likely at all to die of Covid-19, if fit and healthy it is very rare. The economy, people’s livelihoods and their mental health all depend on the Welsh Government doing the right thing and starting to reopen our nation’s economy. The Welsh Government can lead the way here, and show that blanket bans and lockdowns are not the answer in the future. They do not want to gain a reputation for being keen to take away people’s freedoms, but reluctant to give them back.