We're at a tipping point in Wales with the Coronavirus, warns Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price - it may be time to pull the emergency cord.

Originally published in The Sunday Times on the 11th of October 2020. 

Wales has shown what it can do in the last six months.  

We’ve seen a great spirit of resourcefulness in the face of adversity, infinite ingenuity and boundless dexterity – time and time again. We saw it first in the emergency hospitals that rose in record time. Welsh companies and Welsh universities developed a range of new tools in the battle against the virus from breathalysers to PPE. 

Wales is a community of communities – and it’s that connection that can keep us safe. 

The Welsh Government hasn’t got everything right – and as a constructive and conscientious Opposition we have pointed out those things that we would do differently.

In the early part of the crisis the truth is the Welsh Government followed Westminster too closely.  Too slow into lockdown, too fast to abandon test and trace.  On everything from PPE to testing we were locked into UK systems that were world-lagging not world-leading – and Wales paid too heavy a price as a result.  Though we had lower mortality than England, by the Summer Wales still had the fifth highest death toll in Europe according to the ONS.

But then the Welsh Government started to change.

We said, set up your own scientific advice group – they did with the Technical Advisory Cell.  We said source your own PPE, they did through the experienced team at NHS Wales Shared Services – a central unit that England lacked. We said, don’t be seduced by Westminster’s confused flip-flopping messaging and policy – and we in Wales stuck to the clear Health First line. 

And for a time cases here in August were lower than anywhere in the UK.

But as we face a hard and difficult winter, we now find ourselves at a crucial tipping point yet again.

The Welsh Government is starting to follow Westminster again. 

Our reliance on the failing UK Lighthouse Labs has cast a shadow on our own test and trace capacity. The Ten o’clock pub curfew dreamt up by Westminster seems to be driven more by the desire to be seen to be doing something rather than doing something than that is well thought-out that will actually work.

Strategic indecisiveness has bedevilled the Westminster Government since the very beginning of the crisis.  It has never been clear what they are trying to achieve.  Having flirted with then later rejecting herd immunity, there were only two possible strategies to follow – elimination or mitigation. The UK Government has oscillated between the two – which is the worst of all worlds because you have all the economic costs of Lockdown but fewer of the health benefits in terms of lives saved.

The curfew epitomises that approach. It places considerable cost on the hospitality sector but there isn’t clear evidence that on its own it will have the desired effect. 

Now, the Welsh Government is right to adopt a local, and even hyper-local approach as it’s doing in Llanelli and we must be as focused as the data allows.  But in those areas that are under higher restriction we should close pubs and off-licences earlier as at least one of the local authorities have asked or even close them entirely for a period. And insist on targeted sector-specific support for those businesses affected.

Then, there’s the absurdity of people in lockdown areas of England being able to travel to Wales to areas where community transmission is low.  The UK Prime Minister’s dismissal of the prospect of travel restrictions should not have come as a surprise perhaps given the general contempt which his Government repeatedly demonstrates towards Wales. We’ve called for action consistently since the Summer on this issue and we’re no further forward.  The Welsh Government must take action independently as a Government  and in addition to looking at introducing quarantine as a solution should consider making non-essential travel into Wales from a lockdown area illegal and subject to enforcement by the police. 

Meanwhile, the new restrictions that have come into force in Scotland demonstrate a significant ramping up of restrictions locally and Scotland-wide in what has come to be known as the 'circuit breaker' to curb the rise in cases.

The number of new cases has risen rapidly this week in Wales and the R rate is said to be between 1.3 and 1.6. The numbers in critical care and hospitalised with Covid-19 in Wales are, proportionally, much higher than Scotland at the moment.

The next few days will be critical for Wales and we may need to pull that emergency cord, as the Scottish government has already decided to do.

Every Government facing this second wave is having to choose between going early and hard in tightening restrictions or later, lighter and longer.

The “go hard and early” approach has worked well for New Zealand - having officially eliminated Covid-19 for the second time. Half hearted, hesitant, long drawn out measures may be worse for public health and the economy. This is the key lesson for Wales at this critical juncture and the Welsh Government must heed it.

There are no risk-free options in a sense to any Government but the greatest risk of all is delay.