United approach will keep us ahead of a second wave
Adam Price MS confirms his support of a non-partisan, four-nation approach to second wave coronavirus preparations, in a piece written for the Sunday Times
Adam Price MS, Leader of Plaid Cymru, writes for the Sunday Times, 28 June 2020:
Last week – four years to the day since the Brexit referendum – some of the most senior figures within the medical world penned an open letter to all UK political leaders.
During that referendum, public discourse descended into a war of words where the advice of experts and leaders within their field were met with doubt and derision.
The Prime Minister said himself that the “doomsters and gloomsters” would get it wrong. Flirting with blind faith was far more fun than following facts.
Four years on and with the true economic impact of Brexit looming, the Covid-19 pandemic engulfing the globe has brought about a welcome sea-change – experts are back in vogue.
Scientists, researchers and advisors have featured more prominently in our lives than any of us probably ever imagined.
Data-driven daily briefings have dictated what we can and cannot do on any given day.
We have clung onto the words of people most of us had never even heard of, and the lucidity and honesty of their contributions in media has been most refreshing.
That is why this open letter must be heeded.
In it, key figures from the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, The Lancet, the British Medical Association and others, throw their weight behind a proposal put forward in a recent British Medical Journal editorial for a rapid review of the UK’s preparedness for a second coronavirus wave.
The letter goes on to call for a “constructive, non-partisan, four nation approach” – something I wholeheartedly support.
A veil of ignorance inhibited our ability to respond as effectively as possible to the outbreak back in March.
A new virus posed unprecedented challenges, some which were understandably difficult to overcome.
By now, we are in a very different place. We can lift this veil of ignorance by collating what we have learnt over the last three months through the suggested rapid review, conducted by a cross-party, four-nation Commission. Shared experiences informing a shared preparedness plan.
Those proposing this Commission have already outlined the policy areas which need rapid attention, based on the weaknesses exposed in recent weeks.
Perhaps the most crucial is the reference to effective governance and scrutiny, including the involvement of regional and local structures and leaders.
Wales’s very recent experience of a local flare-up on Anglesey where more than 200 employees in a meat processing plant tested positive for Covid-19 proved the importance of ensuring that Local Authority leaders have the freedom to act in the vest interests of the citizens they serve, regardless of the national picture.
Similarly, the Plaid Cymru-led Ceredigion Council has been widely commended for its early introduction of a track and trace system which has led to that area having the lowest number of cases per head anywhere in the UK.
A second area requiring rapid attention is procurement, particularly PPE and testing kits. On more than one occasion during the crisis, Wales has been left in a situation where suppliers based in England were prohibited from selling their goods across the border, leaving Welsh care homes and dentists’ surgeries disadvantaged.
If we are to have a genuine four-nation approach then preparedness for a second wave must ensure that all parts of the UK are adequately resourced. The same is true of testing kits where the collapsed deal between the Welsh Government and multi-national Roche denied Wales the capacity to test thousands of suspected cases.
Another suggested area of urgent work has already been undertaken in Wales – the disproportionate burden of Covid-19 on BAME communities. Professor Emmanuel Ogbonna chaired a group commissioned by the Welsh Government and produced a report last week which found that structural and systemic racism is among the key risk factors which have contributed to the high death rate among Wales’s BAME communities due to the pandemic.
This is exemplary work which should inform the findings of any Commission looking to learn the lessons of this crisis.
The final policy area proposed is international collaboration, particularly to mitigate any difficulties in pandemic management arising from Brexit.
The pace at which coronavirus has spread across the world has reminded us of the intertwined nature of globalisation.
Many borders may remain closed but our minds must be open to embracing innovative ideas from nations and regions worldwide such as New South Wales, New Zealand and Norway who took swift and decisive action to get the virus under control.
Foresight, not hindsight, must be our buzzword from now on.
A Commission’s task would not be to attribute blame – not to point the finger but point to a plan.
A swift and detailed set of recommendations with broad cross-party support across all four nations that would enable us to implement a robust “Prepare. Prevent. Protect” approach, and deal with a second wave more effectively than the first one.
Many of the voices proposing this approach have dedicated their lives to saving others’ without fear or favour.
They are voices that should, and I hope will, be heeded.