Posted: Wed 7th Oct 2020

First Minister accuses ‘disgraceful’ North Wales Conservative politicians of encouraging people to ignore local lockdown rules

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Oct 7th, 2020

First Minister Mark Drakeford has accused Conservative politicians in North Wales of encouraging people to ignore new local lockdown rules.

The Welsh Labour leader reacted angrily after receiving a letter signed by Conservative MPs and MSs in the region in which they criticised the decision to impose travel restrictions across Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham.

The measures came into force last Wednesday in the wake of a rise in coronavirus cases in the four counties, meaning people are not able to leave or enter the areas without a “reasonable excuse”, such as work or education.

Mr Drakeford defended the Welsh Government’s move to set a threshold of around 50 cases per 100,000 of the population before taking local action. Across the border, such measures are not taken until the figure hits 75.

He also pointed out the current rate in North Wales is well above that level.

In order from highest to lowest cases, the rolling seven day figure for each county is as follows:

  • Flintshire – 159
  • Wrexham – 140
  • Gwynedd – 91
  • Denbighshire – 76
  • Conwy – 75
  • Anglesey – 13

The cases per 100k figures are:

  • Flintshire – 101.9 per 100k
  • Wrexham – 103 per 100k
  • Gwynedd – 73.1 per 100k
  • Denbighshire – 79.4 per 100k
  • Conwy – 64 per 100k
  • Anglesey – 18.6 per 100k

Both Anglesey and Gwynedd are currently not covered by the restrictions as the proportion of cases was low at the time they were introduced.

While figures for Anglesey have stayed comparatively small, Gwynedd now has the fourth highest rate.

However, Health Minister Vaughan Gething yesterday said the introduction of local restrictions across the whole county was unlikely as cases are believed to be focused largely around the student community.

Discussing the comments by Conservative politicians at today’s First Minister’s Questions session, Mr Drakeford said: “The Welsh Government was very much criticised last week by Conservative Members of Parliament, and I think, disgracefully, Conservative Members of the Senedd, when we took action in north Wales, because we hadn’t yet reached those 50 thresholds, although it was absolutely obvious to anybody who studied the figures that north Wales was on its way to that threshold—and sadly, today, is well past it.

“We have taken early action, and action that is hard for people. I really do understand that people faced with these local restrictions are being asked to make a contribution that bites into their daily lives.

“But we’ve done that because we think…that if we take action early, then those actions are likely to have to last for a shorter period of time before we can restore freedoms to people.”

Brexit Party Leader Mark Reckless later cautioned the First Minister over his choice of wording.

He questioned whether it was appropriate to describe their actions as disgraceful for taking a different view on coronavirus restrictions.

However, Mr Drakeford then doubled down on his comments.

He said: “I used the term ‘disgraceful’ knowingly, thoughtfully, and it is a disgrace for this reason: that the letter that was published by Conservative Members of Parliament, and, as I say, Members of this Senedd as well, last week was an encouragement to people in North Wales not to abide by the law that is passed here in Wales.

“I do think that for lawmakers that is disgraceful, because it encouraged them to think that the restrictions that we have had to place on people in North Wales were unnecessary and unjustified.

“None of that was true, and it undermines the willingness of other people who want to make sure they are making their contribution from making that as well, and I think that that was a disgraceful thing to do and I’m very happy to stand by that description of it.”

Clwyd West MS Darren Millar, who was one of the signatories, has since dismissed Mr Drakeford’s claims.

Commenting on Twitter, he said: “The First Minister’s claims that @WelshConserv MPs and MSs have been encouraging people to break the law are cobblers.”

“Instead of trying to discredit those with concerns about the proportionality of new rules, he should publish evidence to back them up.”

The original letter sent by the region’s Conservative representatives can be read in full below.

Having carefully monitored Covid-19 infection levels across North Wales in recent weeks, it came as something of a surprise to us to learn of the restrictions that the Welsh Government intends to impose on Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham from 6pm tomorrow.

The general public is understandably frustrated as we enter the seventh month of pandemic restrictions, and scepticism of the value of the restrictions has risen.

It is our responsibility as elected members to defend public health measures where they are necessary to protect our vulnerable members of society.  However, in order for us to be able to do so, decisions must be seen to be made on hard evidence and to be proportionate; they should take into account the negative, as well as the positive, impacts of proposed measures; and they should be transparent and subject to debate.

We accept that Covid-19 infection rates have generally risen across North Wales during September – although they remain significantly lower than those within local lockdown areas elsewhere.

It is understood that raised case numbers largely relate to household transmission, as well as an element within the hospitality and healthcare sectors.  There is very limited evidence that either travel or tourism is driving raised infection rates.  For this reason, travel restrictions have not generally been introduced for local lockdowns in England.

Bearing this in mind, we believe that the Welsh Government’s proposed “within county” travel restrictions are disproportionate.  This is especially the case when the implications of the policy are considered: the county shapes and borders do not necessarily relate to the way people in North Wales live their lives, and each county comprises of vastly differing population densities, communities and infection rates.

We would strongly urge reconsideration of the scope of the restrictions, to take into account the devastating impact of travel restrictions on the wellbeing and livelihoods of local people, and a commitment to review the measures regularly.  Furthermore, community by community data is needed to back up decisions taken, and regular communication justifying decisions must be shared with all stakeholders, including ourselves.

It is important that all take the threat of the virus seriously and take responsibility for their actions so that we can successfully minimise the impact of a second wave of the pandemic in North Wales.

 

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