THE Welsh Government is coming under increasing pressure over how it responded to the emerging threat of Covid-19 last year following a damning report on the UK’s preparedness. 

The report by MPs found the UK’s response to be “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”. 

But as it mostly focuses on the actions of the UK Government in relation to England the Welsh Government still faces questions over how it responded and it is still unclear how those questions will be formally raised and answered. 

That is why the publication of today’s report has led to more calls for a Welsh specific inquiry to examine the decisions taken here in Wales. 

At First Minister’s Questions it was put to Mark Drakeford that as Wales is mentioned only some nine times in the 147 page report, mainly in the footnotes, the case for a Welsh specific inquiry is strengthened. 

This afternoon the Labour leader was able to say that he hasn’t, as yet, had time to read the report – but that answer will only last for so long. 

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However he did try to put forward the case that his stance that the Welsh response needs to be examined in the context of the wider UK is also enhanced by the report. 

He told Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price: “This report, as I understand it, was never meant to be about the experience in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, but it does set out very clearly the decisions that were made at a UK level, and without understanding that, you cannot understand the way in which decisions were made here in Wales.” 

The first minister also outlined how he has written to the UK Government to press the case for a proper examination of Welsh issues and his expectation that the devolved governments will be given the opportunity to be involved in the appointment of the judge leading the inquiry.  

He said he is due to meet with prime minister Boris Johnson next week. 

“There are a number of ways in which, over the weeks ahead, the UK Government can demonstrate that this is to be an inquiry that sets out the actions that were taken at a UK level, therefore providing the proper context to understand what happened in Wales, but has a focus on the Welsh experience, which will give confidence to people who will look to it that the actions of the Welsh Government and of others have been fully and properly scrutinised and the answers to questions that people have properly addressed in the process.” 

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The first minister again acknowledged that with hindsight the Welsh Government would have taken some different decisions. 

The first minister has met members of the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru campaign which is pushing for a Welsh inquiry. The call, which is supported by Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives, also has backing from some charities. 

Joseph Carter, head of devolved nations for Asthma UK & British Lung Foundation said: “The report by MPs into the Covid response highlighted apparent delays and errors, but the committee did not look at steps taken individually by Wales. Decisions relating to care and treatment for which the Welsh Government are responsible for need to be scrutinised here in Wales.” 

Today’s report said at the beginning of the pandemic, when Covid-19 emerged in China, the UK policy was to mistakenly take a “gradual and incremental approach” to interventions such as social distancing, isolation and lockdowns. 

In the Welsh Government’s briefing today health minister Eluned Morgan, who held a different cabinet post at the time, said it would have been “extremely difficult” for the Welsh Government to have imposed a lockdown before the UK Government had decided to do so, on March 23, due to the complexity of the open border and that there was no furlough scheme available at that point. 

However less restrictive measures, such as social distancing or requiring face coverings  - which the Welsh Government only mandated in September last year, after England – could have been brought in sooner. 

The final days before the UK Government asked people to work from home, and avoid public gatherings a week before ordering the March 23 lockdown, also saw a row over whether Wales’ Six Nations rugby match with Scotland should have been allowed to go ahead. 

The Welsh Government consistently said in the days leading up to the match its advice was that there was no need to prohibit large gatherings. The game was only postponed at the eleventh hour, with a day’s notice, as the English Premier League postponed its round of fixtures and a number of sports, down to community level, followed suit. 

The MPs said the idea of slowly introducing some restrictions was “a deliberate policy” proposed by scientists and adopted by UK governments, which has now been shown to be “wrong” and led to a higher death toll. 

The MPs concluded that the “decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice that led to them – rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”. 

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After hearing evidence from people including the prime minister’s former adviser, Dominic Cummings, and former health secretary Matt Hancock, the MPs said it was only in the days leading up to the March 23 lockdown that people within Government and advisers “experienced simultaneous epiphanies that the course the UK was following was wrong, possibly catastrophically so”. 

On the issue of whether the UK Government was pursuing a policy of herd immunity, which has proved controversial, MPs said that while it was not an official government strategy, there was a “policy approach of fatalism about the prospects for Covid in the community”. 

Experts and ministers sought to “only moderate the speed of infection” through the population – flattening the curve – rather than seeking to stop its spread altogether. 

Community testing was abandoned on March 12 and the UK Government also implemented “light-touch border controls” only on countries with high Covid rates, even though 33 per cent of cases during the first wave were introduced from Spain and 29 per cent from France. 

The Welsh Government will highlight border controls as an issue under the UK’s government’s control, and the relationship between it and the UK Government may also be relevant to testing capacity. 

Discharging positive patients to care homes was, say the MPs, a failure that led to deaths and was repeated by decisions taken in Wales. 

As restrictions eased in England the MPs said the government's tiered approach was found to be confusing but for those wanting a Welsh inquiry it will highlight the absence of an examination of how the Welsh Government first introduced 'local lockdowns' before eventually a short 'firebreak' lockdown while the UK Government was still resisent.

But MPs offered praise in two areas – treatments and vaccines – saying ministers were “correct to identify that a vaccine would be the long-term route out of the pandemic” and supported research and development. 

Again there has been some differences in approach and implementation of vaccine programmes, which the Welsh Government has taken additional praise for. 

There has been greater divergence between the UK nations as the pandemic has progressed – and the greater the differences in decisions, policies and impacts which those calling for a Welsh inquiry say only increases the need a specific examination of those decisions taken in Wales. 

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