May I firstly wish all readers of the Herald well in what are the most unprecedented of times.
May I also extend my thanks to all those public servants who have thrown themselves at the task of preparing our communities here in Carmarthenshire for the onset of the worst of the Coronavirus outbreak. The speed at which Carmarthenshire County Council, Dyfed Powys Police, Hywel Dda Health Board and other local public agencies have responded is quite incredible. I am also incredibly thankful to all those voluntary and private bodies that have also contributed to the cause. As an MP I have been heartened by the offer of help for the most vulnerable from community groups, individuals and businesses - dispelling once and for all Thatcher’s boast that there is no such thing as a community.
May I also thank the people of Carmarthenshire who for the most part have adhered to the social distancing instructions that have been issued by the Authorities in order to flatten the peak of the outbreak and buy precious time to enable the necessary build-up of capacity to deal with the expected demand of patients.
If one photograph sticks in my mind to indicate the scale of what has been achieved to date, it’s the Parc y Scarlets Barn which has been transformed into a field hospital. Not only does it indicate the speed of innovation here in Carmarthenshire, but also a sombre reminder of the scale of the public health challenge facing us.
I am less congratulatory of the British Government who will rightly be skewered at the inevitable public inquiry which follows the end of the crisis. The ‘herd immunity’ strategy initially pursued was grossly irresponsible and lead to the virus spreading far and wide. It seems the British Government were prepared to see many die in order to reduce disruption before they realised they had been looking at the wrong calculations on mortality levels. Medical experts here tell me that 20% of the population are in high risk groups, meaning that across the UK 12 million people and 600,000 in Wales could potentially die from catching the virus. The reluctance to move to virus suppression strategies earlier was a huge political error, and what’s most disappointing for me is that the Labour Government in Wales went along with every order coming down from London.
The forthcoming Inquiry will also quite rightly judge harshly the hollowing out of our health and care services over recent years meaning that vital kit to deal with pandemics weren’t available. Stockpiling of Personal Protection Equipment was overruled on the basis of cost, and the British Government refused to procure vital ventilator equipment on a pan European level. English exceptionalism isn’t going to beat Coronavirus.
The economic rescue package announced by the Chancellor is eye watering and a debate will rage over how it will all be re-payed soon enough. Westminster will be frothing at the mouth for another decade and more of austerity. This time the super-rich should pay, which is why I have been arguing for a one off wealth tax on personal assets above £10 million.
My office has been inundated with people and businesses falling through the gaps which is why Plaid Cymru’s preferred policy of a basic income should have been implemented.
We are only at the start of a long struggle with a vaccine for the virus over a year away. Much work has been done in preparing for the worst of the outbreak, but much more is needed in building up capacity, ensuring key workers have the proper protection equipment, providing the right health pathway to treat patients falling ill and building up testing capacity.
We also need to start thinking now about the next stages of the battle against the virus, in particular how we mass produce the vaccine when it comes online.
If that wasn’t enough we need to think about what sort of economy and society emerges in Wales after things get back to normal. A huge ideological battle is about to rage, I just hope that this outbreak, as awful as it is, will lead to a rapid end to the age of right wing populism which has been in the ascendancy in recent years.