We are currently in the middle of the all Wales national lockdown. I have outlined my views on how I believe the lockdown is affecting our area below.
We have seen an increase in cases in North Powys over the past week, and I am pleased that Powys Teaching Health Board has reacted so quickly to local outbreaks.
I would urge you of course to be vigilant in terms of keeping Montgomeryshire safe - stay at home, observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly, do not meet anyone you do not live with, work from home if you can, wear a face covering in shops and other indoor public places, unless you have a reasonable excuse not to do so, and stay at home, self-isolate and get tested if you or anyone you live with has symptoms.
If you do have symptoms, you can get a test by visiting this website: https://gov.wales/apply-coronavirus-covid-19-test or by calling 119 (7am to 11pm).
I know that for some time, many of you have been keen that local data for Covid cases is published. Please also find below information of how to access the Public Health Wales portal so that you can view the data by local area.
Also, as I've said previously in my other recent updates, I would draw your attention to the Welsh Government's Frequently Asked Questions page which you can view here and the specific guidance on the lockdown is available here.
These are the best links in terms of being aware of the current rules in Wales, and for information after the lockdown ends on Monday.
I hope that you find this month's e-newsletter informative and if you have any comments or issues you would like to raise, please contact me by email at email@example.com or by phone by calling 01686 610887.
Russell George MS
Member of the Welsh Parliament for Montgomeryshire
Coronavirus - Useful Links & Frequently Asked Questions
Advice from Powys County Council is available here.
Information and Support for the Third Sector is available from the Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations (PAVO) here.
The Business Wales website is a good point of reference, which is updated regularly for those who want advice about business support.
The symptoms of Coronavirus are a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and a loss of smell or taste. To view more advice on what to do if you think you have symptoms, please click here.
Public Health Wales provides a daily update about the number of cases of coronavirus in Wales. It is available here.
The Correct Approach for Powys
I believe that the Government in Wales and indeed the Governments responsible for other areas of the UK, and around the world, have difficult judgements to make and it is often a fine balancing act during the unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves during the Covid-19 pandemic.
People contact me on a daily basis presenting their views on national lockdowns and restrictions and asking for my views.
Here in Powys, we have a comparably lower level of infection per 100,000 of the population compared to other areas of Wales. Where we have had cases in Powys, these have been dealt with quickly by Powys Teaching Health Board and other authorities.
Therefore, I’m more persuaded by the World Health Organisation's view that blanket national lockdowns are not the most appropriate approach. My fear for Mid Wales is that any national lockdown will unnecessarily penalise the people of Powys from seeing their families, friends and loved ones, which would in turn have a detrimental effect on people's health and wellbeing.
In terms of coming out of the Wales-wide lockdown next week, I am of the view that a targeted approach to tackling any outbreaks is the best course of action. An urban solution which may be suitable for South Wales isn't right for rural Mid Wales. In areas such as Powys, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire which cover approximately 40% of the land mass of Wales, low cases of Covid-19 have been, and continue to be reported. I certainly hope that we will see further targeted approaches, rather than blanket national rules which may not be appropriate for all areas of Wales.
I hope we don't see further Wales-wide lockdowns and Government adopts targeted interventions, including community restrictions, shielding for the vulnerable and improved test and trace processes.
The health and the economy of our nation are intertwined and while safeguarding the health of those who are particularly vulnerable to this terrible virus is an absolute priority, I believe that there should be a smart, localised approach based on the latest data to minimise the social and economic impact of restrictions.
I'm not in receipt of the level of data which Government has but I think that any Government intervention should be proportionate to the risk and subject to careful scrutiny. I'm not convinced that a national lockdown is the right approach, but when any Government is faced with their official advisors presenting recommendations to them, their options are somewhat limited so I sympathise with them in having to make difficult choices.
Like many of you, I am not complacent about the risks of this pandemic and sadly I accept there will continue to be spikes and outbreaks in Powys. However, I believe that a plan which will provide this kind of targeted local intervention, and earlier intervention, based on the latest data would be a more suitable, sustainable and effective way of tackling outbreaks whilst simultaneously helping the wider local area to socially and economically recover.
I was struck by the following story in the media last week. I have presented this story to the First Minister to support the view that a target approach is the best course of action for Wales going forward.
This example will be common across Powys - Cheryl Griffiths who owns a costume and entertainment shop believes Wales risks losing the heart and soul of rural communities. Like many others, Cheryl has put her life and soul into the business. Powys has a large proportion of self-employed people and small business owners, and to most, it’s more than just a job, it’s their life.
The UK Government approach for England is of course a matter for Westminster politicians, however, it is relevant for me as the Member of the Welsh Parliament for Montgomeryshire, because we in Mid Wales are so dependant on critical health services across the border.
I would like to see all Governments of the UK work much more closely together on a consistent overall framework of targeted local interventions rather than the differing and confusing approaches which have been adopted thus far, and I particularly feel that a UK wide framework for the Christmas period would be the correct course for us as a county and a country.
Nearly every day I receive correspondence from constituents who believe both the UK and Welsh Governments are either not going far enough in terms of restrictions, or indeed that the reaction of government is completely disproportionate, and they should be significantly less restrictive on our lives.
I fully appreciate that some will take different views to me, but my message would be please do respect each other's views, and let's be hopeful of a vaccine that can end this horrible period of time for us all.
Information on Local Covid-19 Cases
To view the latest data on Covid-19 cases, tests and death, please click here to visit the Public Health Wales portal.
Colleagues and I have been urging the Health Minister for months to publish localised data to show the spread of Covid 19 across Wales. I'm pleased that this has now happened. Public Health Wales is now publishing the data so local case information can now be viewed.
My advice to get to the data most relevant for Powys is click on the link. Then, under Local Authority area, select Powys. Then, for the most meaningful date, under time period, select rolling 7 days. However, selecting all cases also helps to see changes in patterns. It’s difficult to view on a mobile device so it is better to use a PC.
Current Business Support
I wrote to the Welsh Government's Minister for Economy and Minister for Finance last week after they "paused" part of the support which is offered to businesses during the lockdown.
The Welsh Government paused areas of a new fund after overwhelming demand and 5000+ applications in just one day for business rates grants and other discretionary grants under the third phase of the Economic Resilience Fund (ERF) and the Lockdown Business Fund.
While I'm pleased that the Welsh Government has introduced a scheme of support, I'm concerned that it has paused applications “to allow an assessment of applications made against the fund value”. This latest development adds anxiety for businesses who are struggling to navigate the Welsh Government’s financial packages for businesses due to Covid-19.
What is important to note is that whilst parts of the ERF Business Grant are suspended while applications received to date are processed, other areas of the fund and wider support are still open, so I would encourage any business (especially if you are in the business rates system) to view the Business Wales website. A good link to view and check eligibility for grants is here - Business Wales - and the best Powys County Council link for businesses is here.
My face-to-face advice surgeries are still on hold due to Covid-19 social distancing requirements but I remain happy to have telephone conversations with residents to provide advice and support so please do contact my office to arrange a call back if you want to discuss any matter.
You can contact me by calling 01686 610887 or by email - firstname.lastname@example.org