Statement by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs. 

The second statement to the virtual Senedd is by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs.

TITLE Response to Coronavirus (Covid-19)
DATE 8th April 2020
BY Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs

We are facing a global pandemic, the like of which we have not seen. This is an extremely worrying time for all families across Wales, including those in our rural, coastal and farming communities and my thoughts go out to all who are affected.

Before and since my planned Oral Statement of 24 March, which was postponed by agreement of the Business Committee, my officials and I have been working hard to engage with and support those working in our food sectors, on safeguarding our environment and on ensuring critical infrastructure and infection control continues to operate for the people of Wales.

On 16 March, I hosted a round table meeting, bringing together the views of Wales’ farmers, fishers, foresters, and food and drink producers.  This proved crucial for planning and tackling the immediate challenges across my portfolio.

Since then, I have been working to ensure continuity of food supplies, working closely with UK Government, the UK Retailer Forum, the Food Contingency Emergency Liaison Group and the Food & Drink Wales Industry Board, amongst others.

In addition, I have been working with the Agricultural Resilience Group. I met them last week and there is another roundtable discussion next week. My officials are in daily contact with stakeholders. The intelligence and outputs from the ARG are feeding into Welsh Government thinking on how best to deal with the impact of the escalating measure to manage the Covid-19 outbreak.

I can assure Members the retailers and supply chains are meeting the challenge. Our food stores are being restocked, irrespective of their location and I want to thank the retail workforce for their hard work.

More than 85,000 people in Wales have been sent a letter by the Chief Medical Officer for Wales because they have a specific pre-existing, long-term health condition, which means they are very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus due to a serious underlying health issue.  They have been asked to undertake a series of “shielding” measures, including staying at home for 12 weeks.

On 3 April, I joined the Minister for Housing and Local Government in announcing the delivery of the first food boxes to the doorsteps of eligible people who cannot rely on family or friends to help them.

The Welsh Government has made £15m available for the direct delivery food scheme. The food boxes, which people request from their Local Authority, provide essential foods in packages and tins for one person who is shielding for one week.

In addition, we have now agreed with supermarkets that they will prioritise online home delivery orders from people who are shielding in Wales.

Farmers are, of course, at the very heart of our food chains and our environmental resilience, even more so during this global pandemic and it is vital they have our support.

On 1 April I announced farmers now have an extra month to submit their Single Application Form (SAF), with the deadline extended to 15 June.

In response to concerns about Crop Diversification requirements following the recent flooding and the added pressure of the coronavirus situation, I also confirmed that Welsh Government is removing the requirements completely for BPS 2020.

Furthermore, an additional £5.5m has been allocated to the BPS and Glastir 2019 support scheme which re-opened on 1 April to support those 800 contracts or claimants who’ve not received a payment. Farmers will be able to apply for support through the scheme to alleviate potential cash flow problems.

Tackling agricultural pollution is a priority and I will be publishing draft regulations, on the Welsh Government website, which I am minded to introduce once the crisis comes to an end. As we recover from the current crisis we must do all we can to prevent damage being done to our fragile ecosystems and to help nature to flourish.

We also need to remember that throughout this difficult time, our critical workers are working incredibly hard around the clock, in challenging circumstances, to keep us and our animals safe. This includes staff in NRW, APHA, Local Authorities, water companies as well as timber, oil, gas and electricity workers maintaining power to our hospitals, homes and industries.

Our vets, are crucial in ensuring animal health and welfare and dealing with reports of suspected animal diseases.

Controlling the spread of TB remains important, but testing will only continue if it can be done safely. Cattle movement restrictions will be applied for overdue TB tests, but keepers will no longer be referred for cross-compliance penalties.

Where a pre-movement test is required, animals may only be traded if they have all been tested by a vet and shown to be4 negative.  The result of all tests must be reported to APHA. Guidance on TB testing is being reviewed and updated daily.

Fishers are a vital part our food chains and our coastal communities, and it is vital they too have our support during these difficult times.  As a direct result of the coronavirus crisis, the shellfish trade to Europe, which is more than 90% of the Welsh seafood exports, has collapsed and trade within the UK has practically stopped.

Finally, Members will be aware COP26 has had to be postponed.

However, our response to the Climate Emergency will continue. This Government remains committed to achieving our emissions reduction targets and producing our next low carbon delivery plan as scheduled.

As my colleague Ken Skates said last week, we must work together – with compassion, with urgency and with care – to get through the significant challenges we face and to come out the other side.

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