‘Firebreaker’ lockdown in Wales essential to protect NHS, medics say

By Claire Hayhurst, PA
·5 min read

The “firebreaker” lockdown in Wales will hopefully provide a small amount of relief to NHS staff fighting coronavirus on the frontline, medics have said.

First Minister Mark Drakeford, announcing the lockdown, said there was a “very real risk” that the NHS would be overwhelmed if such measures were not taken to slow the spread of Covid-19 in Wales.

Mr Drakeford said critical care units were already full and health and social care staff were being asked “to work even harder”.

The lockdown comes into force at 6pm on Friday and will last until November 9, with people told to stay home while pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops must close.

David Bailey, council chair of British Medical Association Cymru Wales, said: “Bringing in stronger restrictions in Wales at this point is essential – the surge in cases alongside the pressure that the winter season will inevitably bring and the huge backlog of patients already in the system is quite frankly an overwhelming prospect.

“Our members are deeply concerned about the ability of the service to cope.

“We hope the firebreak will stop the exponential rise and keep cases at a level where the NHS can cope, whilst also providing a small amount of relief to the staff who are fighting this virus on the frontline.”

Helen Whyley, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, said members were “exhausted, stressed and anxious” about caring for a large increase of patients as case levels rise.

“I was pleased to hear the First Minister of Wales acknowledging the importance and the dedication of nurses in the NHS and social care, but to support them, following the restrictions is not enough,” she said.

“Testing for health and social care staff has to be accessible and results need to be immediate to ensure nursing staff are able to help and care for the people of Wales.”

Paul Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, said the Wales-wide lockdown was not proportionate and would impact businesses in areas of the country with low levels of coronavirus.

Mr Davies said the Welsh Government had failed to be “open and transparent about the evidence” behind the lockdown and what it would mean in the future.

“The Welsh Government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns,” Mr Davies said.

“This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year.

“The Welsh Government must be clear what actions they are taking during the lockdown to prevent further Wales-wide lockdowns which will have a significant impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.”

Mr Davies called for Mr Drakeford to “urgently” come to the Welsh Parliament and answer questions about the lockdown.

Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, said the Welsh Government should use the lockdown to improve the contact tracing system in Wales.

He said the safeguarding of workplaces needed to be ensured, with sufficient financial support available for businesses and employees who will be directly affected.

“A firebreak is a last resort and should only be used in an emergency. We are now in an emergency,” Mr Price said.

“It’s time for us as a nation to come together once again – as communities, as Government and as opposition – working together to protect our NHS and save lives.”

Nick Ireland, divisional officer at the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw), said it understood why the Welsh Government was introducing the “firebreak”.

“The closure of non-essential retail is going to be difficult for many retailers who were already struggling and trying to recover from the first lockdown, with reduced footfall on our high streets,” Mr Ireland said.

“The fixed period of this lockdown and the guarantee it won’t be extended provides some certainty and allows retailers to plan for their reopening.”

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union, said there was “no doubt” that severe measures needed to be taken in Wales to control the spread of coronavirus.

“Going forwards, if the measures announced today do not bring the virus under control, the Welsh Government should not rule out considering additional measures that include all schools,” Dr Roach said.

Neil Butler, national official for Wales at NASUWT, added that the Welsh Government should now draw up a “new plan” based on keeping schools open in a “sustainable and safe manner”.

David Evans, Wales secretary of the National Education Union Cymru, said he was “pleased” that action was being taken to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

“Heads, teachers and school staff understand the educational impact of this, but we also understand that in exponential epidemics early action is essential,” Mr Evans said.

“Taking action now can avoid more disruption later.”

He said it was essential for every student to have access to IT equipment, and teachers to the appropriate training, to ensure they can learn from home where necessary.

Mr Evans said it was expected that teachers would work from home where possible, creating resources for both online and in-person learning over the coming months.