Statement by the First Minister (29.04.20)

The Senedd is sitting again today with members linked via technology. While I am not on the Welsh Labour rota this week here is the statment by the First Minister.

TITLE Coronavirus (COVID-19)
DATE 29th April 2020
BY Mark Drakeford AM, First Minister

Llywydd, unwaith eto byddaf yn rhoi gwybodaeth i Aelodau am ymateb y Llywodraeth i’r argyfwng coronafeirws.

Rydym yn dal ati i weithio ar frys i ddatrys y pethau mwyaf pwysig –  yn cynnwys offer amddiffynol ar gyfer gweithwyr y gwasanaethau cyhoeddus.

Rydym yn gweithio i gryfhau’r strwythur iechyd cyhoeddus er mwyn bod yn barod ar gyfer y cam nesaf – pan fyddwn yn barod i ddechrau llacio’r rheolau presennol.

Rydym wedi cyhoeddi ein Fframwaith er mwyn rhannu gyda’r cyhoedd sut byddwn yn mynd ati i benderfynu ar y camau nesaf.

Yn y cyfamser, mae’n bwysig iawn fod pawb yn dal i barchu’r rheolau, er mwyn diogelu ein hunain, amddiffyn y gwasanaeth iechyd a gwarchod pobl bregus.

Llywydd, once again I will update Members on the key developments in our response to the coronavirus emergency over the past week.

As in previous weeks, I will focus on those matters not covered by the statements which will follow, by the Minister for Health and Social Services, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, and the Education Minister.

Yesterday an important supply of PPE arrived at Cardiff Airport from Cambodia. It was secured through the efforts of the Welsh Government. We will share it with other parts of the UK if needed, as part of the mutual aid system.

Llywydd, I believe the response to the coronavirus crisis demonstrates the strength of the devolved United Kingdom. We are members of a wider collective, contributing to and drawing on shared resources but we also act on our own initiative where our devolved powers advance Welsh interests.

That’s why, in addition to securing supplies elsewhere, we have focused on strengthening our domestic supply chain to help meet immediate demand and to build resilience for the future.

Transcend Packaging, in Ystrad Mynach, for example, has responded to the call for action and changed its processes to make a million face shields a week for the NHS in Wales. It has the capacity to double that number if needed.

And, for first time, we are close to self sufficiency in scrubs in Wales.  By the end of next week we will be making 5,000 a week, bringing back overseas jobs and anchoring them in our Welsh economy.

We have worked with Alexandra, a UK company supplying the NHS with scrubs, and primarily with three Welsh business and social enterprises.  Two are in North Wales and the third is a factory we created from scratch in Ebbw Vale in partnership with a social enterprise, creating jobs for 15 machinists who were long-term unemployed. 

But Llywydd, not every offer of help turns out to be genuine. Almost one in five, subsequently investigated by the experts at our own Surgical Materials Testing Laboratory in Bridgend, turns out to rely on incorrect certification, or to be fraudulent.  Each one takes time and effort and is an inevitable distraction from responding to the far greater number of generous and well-intentioned possibilities.

Sadly the virus has also been exploited by some to prey on the vulnerable. The Minister for Finance and Trefnydd published advice last week on avoiding the risks of online scams and being vigilant to the serious risks this poses.

Llywydd, as we attend to the urgency of the crisis, we must find time to recognise and protect the culture and diversity of Wales.

During the past week, we have continued to provide guidance and support to help deal with the implications of the virus, including £800,000 for the National Eisteddfod and Eisteddfod Llangollen.

I have written to everyone in Wales observing Ramadan setting out how the festival can be celebrated safely, and in ways that respect the long traditions of Islam.

And, in an important Written Statement published today to mark the anniversary of the declaration of a climate emergency by this Senedd, the Minister for the Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs set out the steps we continue to take to recover loss of bio-diversity and respond to climate change.

Yesterday, we passed another sombre milestone, as the number of deaths recorded by Public Health Wales, passed 800.  Each one of these is a person, with a grieving family. We have provided funding to bereavement services to help them respond to the additional calls for their support.

Businesses across Wales will start receiving grant payments from the Welsh Government’s Economic Resilience Fund by the end of this week.  Since it opened a week ago, the fund has received almost 9,000 requests for support. The scheme was paused on Monday to enable us to consider what changes can be made before we more to the next tranche.

Last Friday we concluded the first three-week review of the coronavirus regulations, and made some modest but significant changes – some to tighten the rules and others to relax them in response to concerns raised.

In the first category, we made clear leaving home for one reason should not mean adding other activities as well. We confirmed the physical distancing requirement applies to workplace cafes and canteens.

In the second category, we have widened the definition of vulnerable people to whom providing supplies is a reasonable excuse to leave home, and we have relaxed the rules to allow people with autism and learning disabilities to leave home for exercise more than once a day.

We have made it clear that businesses that can operate on a click and collect basis are able to do so, provided physical distancing is applied.

We take the review process very seriously, and will continue to do so, in consultation with partners including the police and local authorities.

We are using this review period to plan for the next phase, as I set out in the framework I published on Friday. This was the start of a conversation with people in Wales about our journey out of lockdown.

Our approach has three key elements:

We have explained how we will decide that it is safe to start easing the current restrictions.

We have set out how we will evaluate options for the initial relaxation measures when the time is right.  We want to identify those measures that have the lowest risk and the greatest positive impact.

And we have set out a public health response, which will accompany the easing of restrictions. This will include surveillance, contact tracing and testing, to swiftly identify and react to any emerging coronavirus hotspots. This work is being led by the Chief Medical Officer for Wales.

At the same time we are working to plan for the future, harnessing the best ideas from Wales and expert advice from beyond Wales.

A post-pandemic Wales will be a very different Wales and we need to respond with new ideas rooted in our values. I have asked the Counsel General to lead this work.

Llywydd, we will move carefully and cautiously as we consider relaxing the current restrictions.

We will continue to work closely with the other governments of the UK to try and achieve a common approach.

We will work with people throughout Wales as we face the difficult decisions ahead.

And I will continue to report on all these matters to the Senedd each week.

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