The news this week is set to be dominated by the planned four-week national lockdown in England from Thursday. Although this will not directly affect Wales, there will certainly be consequences for many people who cross the border to live and work. The UK Government must acknowledge the impact these measures will have on the economy and on civil liberties. They are being brought in on evidence that the alternative is to see hospitals filling to breaking point and having to turn away patients with and without Covid-19.
Finding a silver lining in all this is difficult but I will try. Schools and universities in England will stay fully open so at least our children will continue to get an education. The UK Government will hopefully learn from the mistakes here in Wales where shoppers have been prevented from buying children’s clothes and sanitary products on the basis they are “non-essential”. The scientists are becoming increasingly optimistic. Testing looks to be transformed through a fast saliva test enabling outbreaks to be controlled more easily. There is much greater knowledge about what kind of treatment works for the minority who end up in hospital, so the chances of survival are vastly improved. Finally, we edge ever closer to a vaccine. Normally they take up to five years to develop and several years more to roll-out, but the hope is vaccination will begin early next year.
Wales’ firebreak will still end on 9 November – and with it has come a row between First Minister Mark Drakeford and Chancellor Rishi Sunak over cash for jobs. HM Treasury is, has and will always be for the whole of the UK. Furthermore, Wales is not being treated differently to England despite Welsh Government claims to the contrary. In October, the UK Government paid up to 60 per cent of furloughed employees’ wages under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme; including in the first week of the Wales firebreak. It will now rise to 80 per cent across the entire UK, with the scheme remaining open until December. To give homeowners peace of mind – including in Wales too - mortgage holidays no longer ended on 31 October. Borrowers impacted by Covid-19 who haven’t had a mortgage holiday will be entitled to a six-month break. If you’ve already started a mortgage holiday, you can top up to six months without it being recorded on a credit file.
In Wales alone, the UK Government has provided an additional £4.4bn to help with the coronavirus crisis. Over 68,000 jobs have been protected, with a peak of 378,400 in June. We have helped 82,000 self-employed people and backed 48,000 Bounce Back Loans. Mr Drakeford and his cabinet went ahead with the 17-day firebreak knowing exactly what financial support was available.
*Published in the Monmouthshire Beacon on 4 November 2020 and the Abergavenny Chronicle on 5 November 2020*