On Sunday, I received a briefing from UK Government scientific advisors, following a week which has seen Covid infection rates rise faster in Europe than at any other point during the pandemic, writes Dr James Davies, Member of Parliament for the Vale of Clwyd.
Some days ago, France and Germany were forced to switch from localised measures to national lockdowns and now the UK Government plans to do the same for England for the remainder of November.
This is extremely bad news for many people. It is especially unwelcome for thousands of businesses in North Wales which have been either shut or denied much of their custom for over four weeks already. Thankfully, there are generous government schemes in place to help but I continue to receive scores of emails every week from local people who are truly struggling. I also worry hugely about the impact of restrictions on mental health, and on the safe and effective management of non-Covid illnesses.
Although a localised approach remains preferable, and the UK Government hopes to return to this in December, data collated over the last two weeks demonstrates a changing picture: infection rates are now rising across the whole country, particularly in areas so far less affected. This includes some parts of Wales, for example, Powys, where rates have taken off in the last week, with cases roughly doubling in number.
New projections as of Friday evening suggest that NHS capacity will be over-run by Christmas week on the current trajectory, and given that it takes roughly three weeks for lockdown measures to have any impact on hospital admissions, now is the time to act to prevent that nightmare scenario.
In recent weeks, my constituency has had to contend with Welsh Government local lockdown rules which banned reasonable cross-country border travel yet very often allowed continued mixing of people indoors; with a deeply unpopular non-essential item ban; and with a unilateral Welsh “firebreak”. These moves have been made in the absence of clear, published data. It is my strong view that there is no viable Wales-only approach to dealing with the pandemic. Infection rates in Denbighshire at the start of this process were below the UK national average and they remain so – but are now tracking upwards. It would seem that, so far, the restrictions of various kinds that have been in place in much of North Wales over the last four weeks have caused great pain for very little gain.
UK Government scientists indicate that strict lockdown measures will need to be in place for at least a month. It appears unlikely, based on current statistics, that the Welsh Government’s 17-day firebreak will achieve its aims.
Constituents regularly ask me why, in such a difficult situation, there is no single United Kingdom approach to this crisis. They see often arbitrary rules being imposed in Wales as an apparent demonstration of power, regardless of the impact on people’s businesses, wellbeing and livelihoods. This approach from Cardiff causes division, resentment and confusion. As we approach Christmas and the prospect of a happier 2021, it is high time for such political statements to be cast aside, in favour of a coherent and pragmatic UK-wide approach, with its roots based on evidence sought from all perspectives.