Lockdown has probably had a bigger impact on young people aged between 16 and 21 than on any other age group. Their education, in schools or university, has been severely disrupted. Face-to-face learning was replaced with online videos, although it’s no substitute for daily interaction with teachers and peers in a classroom. At this age, every other age group took for granted the freedom to get away from parents, to go to festivals, go to pubs and clubs, go on a first parent-free holiday, or even (dare I say it) go on anti-government protests. Instead, young people have largely stayed indoors for the last 18 months and isolated from each other. Anecdotally, I know many parents who believe lockdown has had a huge impact on the mental health of their children. So congratulations to all those who have done well in their GCSE and A-Level exams under such difficult circumstances. I understand the huge sacrifices young people have made throughout the pandemic. While I am glad we are almost back to normal, I also recognise there are still restrictions on freedom in place and we should look to restore these quickly.
Many of us are looking forward to once again attending the theatre, concerts and other kinds of arts events. Good luck to Newport which is bidding to become the UK City of Culture for 2025. If successful, it would see the city and wider South East Wales region host a year-long programme of events, activities and projects to celebrate Newport’s diverse culture. Previous winning cities have seen an uptake of visitors and a boost for the local economy. All credit to Newport City Council and its partners for this initiative. I am biased having grown up there, but I’m sure the bid is something we can all get behind to lift our spirits.
The cost of NHS PCR Covid tests for international arrivals to the UK – including Wales – has been reduced. Test and Trace tests have been cut from £88 to £68 for people arriving from green list countries and for those coming from amber list countries who are fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, the price of two tests for amber arrivals who have not had both jabs has been cut from £170 to £136. It’s a step in the right direction for holidaymakers but I remain concerned that UK citizens living in Wales do not have any choice to shop around and use a cheaper private test provider instead due to Welsh Government rules. I have asked the Competition and Markets Authority to look very carefully indeed at the cost of PCR testing in Wales as part of an investigation into “excessive” pricing and “exploitative practices” highlighted by Health Secretary Sajid Javid in England. The full letter is on my website.
*Published in the Monmouthshire Beacon on 18 August 2021 and the Abergavenny Chronicle on 19 August 2021*