"Earlier divergence" from UK Government guidance could have saved Welsh lives says public health consultant
The decision to stop community testing and tracing - in contrast to the ‘test, test, test’ message from the World Health, led to "detrimental effects" for people and their communities in Wales a leading public health consultant has said.
A report published today by Dr Camilla Ducker, GP and World Health Organisation Consultant said Wales "lost the ability to understand the spread of COVID 19" and the ability to control it by stopping community testing and tracing for COVID 19 in early March.
The report by Dr Ducker sets out the key policy documents and events leading up to – and during – the coronavirus pandemic, and raises questions over the impact of the decisions made by the Welsh Government during this time.
The report questions whether an earlier divergence would have been in the best interest of the Welsh population and “could have in fact, saved many lives”.
Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price MS said the report confirmed that "blindly trusting Westminster" when it dropped the World Health Organisation’s advice to test and trace early on in the pandemic had been a "terrible mistake" by the Welsh Government.
Mr Price said that whilst a future inquiry would judge the Welsh government’s handling of the crisis, "following Westminster" had been one of the main weaknesses in the Welsh Government's early approach.
Citing gazumped tests and PPE stock as examples, the Plaid Cymru Leader said the “four-nation approach” had made clear how Wales was "always at the back of the queue" when it came to Westminster’s priorities.
The recent decisions to maintain the Stay at Home message and to refuse to send children back to school had been successful examples of Wales steering its own response to the crisis with results for the "health, well-being and trust of our citizens", he said.
Mr Price said the onus was now on the Welsh Government to continue to put the needs of Wales first before the Westminster in its handling of the crisis.
Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price MS said:
“Blindly trusting Westminster when it dropped the WHO’s advice to test and trace was a terrible mistake. Wales should have listened to the world, not to Westminster.
“Whilst a future inquiry will judge the true consequences of this Welsh government’s handling of this crisis - including the failure to ensure universal testing of all care home residents and acquire adequate PPE for health and care staff, following Westminster in its so called four-nation approach surely has been one of the main weaknesses of the Welsh Government’s handling.
“From gazumping crucial Covid testing kits, curtailing the availability of crucial PPE for care homes in Wales and abandoning testing and tracing a week into the crisis, the so-called “four-nation approach” has brought to the fore how Wales is always at the back of the queue when it comes to Westminster’s priorities.
“It is only recently, by refusing to ease lockdown restrictions with the R rate still at a dangerously high level, has Wales decided it will lead its own response to the crisis. The results of maintaining the Stay at Home, Stay Local messaging and ensuring our children do not return to school until it is safe to do so, have been markedly better for the health, well-being and trust of our citizens.
“The ability to create a safety net to protect the people of Wales from this pandemic must be the strongest evidence yet that Wales needs more powers, not less. The onus is now on the Welsh Government to learn lessons from its early failures and take guidance from a number of international contexts – rather than simply following Westminster, to continue to keep Wales safe.”
Dr Camilla Ducker added,
“It is too early to properly understand the impact of all decisions made to date, but it is also clear that certain decisions have led to detrimental effects for people and their communities in Wales.
“The decision to stop community testing and tracing was in contrast to the ‘test, test, test’ message, which was the World Health Organisation’s constant message at the time. By stopping community testing and tracing for COVID 19, Wales lost the ability to understand the spread of COVID 19 and the ability to control it. Between the end of community testing and the beginning of lockdown, a period of a number of days elapsed. During this period community transmission would, of course, have continued unimpeded.
“As plans are made for the next phase of the COVID-19 response, including mitigating the very real risk of a second wave, reflection on these issues should be incorporated.
“The emphasis and priority should be on testing and tracing cases so that those cases can be appropriately isolated. Institutions such as care homes and prisons will continue to be reservoirs for the virus and should be prioritised for regular testing and appropriate PPE to ensure that cases come under control and the risk of transmission to the community is reduced as much as possible.”