Written by Tom Parkhill Cardiff Councillor for Llanishen and Thornhill:
There was widespread dismay across Wales on Saturday as Mark Drakeford announced that the five day Christmas relaxation of restrictions would be cancelled, and the whole of Wales would enter the newly created Tier 4 at a few hours notice. In other words, we are back to the “Stay at Home“ message and in full fat lockdown. However, this time I believe it is justified.
In South Wales particularly the infection rates have risen incredibly quickly: in Cardiff, the infection rate is over 600 people per 100,000, whilst the percentage of positive cases is now exceeding 20%, which indicates this is not due to an increase in the frequency of testing. This equates to 500 cases a day. Cardiff’s infection rate is approximately half of Bridgend and Merthyr Tydfil and is lower than everywhere in South Wales, with the exception of the Vale of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire. Meanwhile, hospitals have very few intensive care beds available, with multiple hospitals reporting none available, including the whole of the Swansea Bay health board over the last week. This is all alongside the fact that more staff are having to self-isolate, which means capacity in intensive care may drop even further in the coming weeks, as round the clock care is unable to be provided. Finally, much of the spread is associated with a new variant of the virus, which appears to be spreading quicker.
What is deeply concerning is that there has been no discussion on deploying rapid testing in hospitals from the Welsh Government. Testing staff, patients and visitors when they enter the hospital could make a big difference in breaking the chain of transmission, particularly as many patients would be far more vulnerable to Covid-19. Forcing teachers to test pupils and staff seems to be the wrong priority, especially when approximately 30% of transmissions are occurring in hospitals. This is the real second wave predicted by scientists and public health professionals. This is the time to put in place a lockdown, as a last resort, to prevent the NHS from becoming the National Coronavirus service.
This second wave illustrates how the restrictions over the summer and in autumn have been needlessly strict and authoritarian. Remember when Caerphilly was in local lockdown, on the 9th September, The Welsh Government said the incidence rate was at 72.9 per 100,000, as a justification for local restrictions. It’s laughable in comparison to the current situation and unfortunately this approach has meant more damage to the Welsh economy and people’s livelihoods than was necessary. This authoritarian streakalso applies to the one size fits all approach to the latest lockdown. What is the point of a tier system if we a have a single tier for infection rates of over 1000 per 100,000 and less than 100 per 100,000? There is too little nuance and it is deeply unfair for people living in Gwynedd, Conwy and Anglesey, particularly as there was such little notice of the incoming restrictions. It worries me greatly that this strict approach has worn down the public and adherence to the measures is waning at the worst possible time. There is a palpable sense of fatigue.
As difficult as these restrictions are, there have been a number of politicians, of all colours, that have completely missed the mood of the public with their needlessly partisan, kneejerk and frankly thoughtless statements. Admittedly, this lack of pitch rolling from both the UK and Welsh government is deeply regrettable and has made the cancellation of Christmas plans for families up and down the country feel much worse, particularly those who will now be spending Christmas alone. A political point is going to come across as crass and insensitive. Furthermore, condemnation of the many people who went shopping on Saturday evening or travelled before restrictions were implemented was unnecessary. These were human reactions to try and make sure your family’s Christmas was not completely ruined. I think it would be worthwhile if some politicians imagined being young, living on your own in a block of flats hundreds of miles away from family, knowing that restrictions may last weeks before condemning people who were acting within the rules.
On a final note, I would encourage you all to reach out to family, friends and neighbours who may now be spending Christmas on their own, at the very least to let them know you are free for a chat. In this difficult year, small gestures like these mean more.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and hope for a better 2021.