Herald Column

Union of Un-equals

Readers of this column will already be aware of my criticism of British Government policy when it comes to the Coronavirus outbreak. It would be well worth readers familiarising themselves with Operation Cygnus as the forthcoming Public Inquiry which follows the crisis is likely to focus on this document.

Essentially Cygnus was an exercise operation in 2016 organised by the British Government to test preparedness for a pandemic situation. The whole point of these exercises is to stress test how prepared public agencies are for a specific emergency, to learn lessons, and most critically identify weaknesses so that they an be remedied.

Whilst Cygnus has been classified as secret by the British Government it has been disclosed that the report identified major faults in terms of the capacity of our health systems to deal with a crisis of pandemic magnitude, particularly in relation to ventilator equipment and Protective Equipment (PPE) and clothing for key health and care staff. Other countries with recent experience of pandemics - particularly in Asia – who had dealt with the SARS outbreak at the beginning of the century and MERS in 2015, were fully aware of the importance of testing and contact tracing to bring the outbreak under control.

It seems clear to me that the British Government which had slept walked through January and February as the crisis unfolded across the world, intoxicated on Brexit exceptionalism, clocked onto the severity of the situation when it was far too late. Looking at the preparedness of the British State they realised quickly they didn’t have enough medical capacity to deal with the pandemic, they didn’t have enough PPE to protect key workers and didn’t have enough testing capacity to contain the virus. Herd Immunity was adopted as a strategy before mortality calculations were revised to indicate the amount of people who would be likely to get very ill or worse.

The great shame for us in Wales is that our Labour Government has meekly followed the on the coat tails of Westminster policy. Looking back its difficult to comprehend that mass public gatherings were considered perfectly acceptable a month ago. When it came to ventilator procurement, PPE provision, and testing capacity – the standard Labour Government response has been to let Westminster lead.

This is where ideology determines decision making. Unionists inherently believe that London is the epicentre of the world, and therefore I suppose from a Labour perspective their decisions make sense. As a Welsh nationalist I come from a very different place. I look at my country and think that London rule offers us nothing but relative poverty and crumbs from beneath the table.

The Union is not having a very good crisis. Earlier this month it was revealed that the British Government had seemingly gazumped an order by the Welsh Government for 5000 tests a day, which would put Wales ahead of Germany in the testing scale (the rate of infection and death in Germany is considerably lower than the UK level). Today in Wales, we are at a fifth of the testing level we would have been without the underhand tactics of the British Government. Rather than stand up for themselves the default approach of the Labour Government has been to beg for more tests from London. Testing is key, without it there is no safe way out of the lockdown without risking further, and potentially more serious, waves of the virus.

As an MP my inbox is filled with concerned health and care professionals not getting access to proper PPE. This is a scandal of the highest order where our brave workers are put in danger. Carmarthenshire Council are only receiving around 20% of what our county requires for public care staff, let alone private providers. Health staff are also not receiving the protection they deserve. Health and Care staff working in the community face a double danger, firstly not only in terms of contracting the virus but they themselves becoming super spreaders to the most at high risk group of people.

Once again, the Labour Government's default position has been to defer to centralised Westminster led procurement routes. Of huge concern therefore is the appearance that the British Government, via its Public Health England agency, instructed major PPE manufacturers not to supply Wales and Scotland.

To paraphrase Orwell - in the Disunited Kingdom, all are equal but some are more equal than others.


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