The Welsh Government is demanding more support from Westminster to protect jobs and businesses ahead of a possible two-week circuit-break lockdown, the country’s health minister has said. Vaughan Gething said the furlough scheme ends on October 31 and will be replaced by the UK Government with a “less generous” Job Support Scheme.
He told the BBC’s Politics Wales show the Welsh Government is “arguing” with ministers in London that a “more certain and more generous package” is needed.
From November 1 the UK Government will pay 67% of wages – up to a maximum of £2,100 a month – for each employee.
Staff must be off work for a minimum of seven days to be eligible, and their employer does not have to pay towards their salary.
Under the current furlough scheme workers get up to 80% of their pay – 20% from their employer and 60% from the Government.
A leaked letter from the transport industry in Wales suggests a two-week circuit-break lockdown is to be introduced at 6pm on October 23 and will last until November 9, with all but essential retail outlets closed.
A final decision on a circuit-breaker is expected to be announced by First Minister Mark Drakeford on Monday.
Mr Gething said the decision is yet to be taken but the Welsh Government is having a
“range of conversations with stakeholders” to understand what the lockdown might look like.
“It would be extraordinary that we weren’t talking to a range of people in Wales and also the UK Government,” he told the BBC.
“Part of the challenge is that support for jobs and businesses is going to change on November 1 and it will be a less generous scheme and it will only be available if businesses are legally required to close.
“It is a matter of fact that the new support scheme available from November 1 is less generous than the furlough scheme.
“That’s the reality we are having to deal with, while trying to argue with the UK Government that a more certain and more generous package is needed if we are going to have the desired effect of any national intervention of any kind to reduce transmission rates while protecting people’s livelihoods as far as possible.”
Mr Drakeford said last week that local lockdowns in force across 17 areas of Wales – affecting more than 2.3 million people – have not slowed the spread of the virus enough.
A travel ban preventing people from areas of the UK with high levels of coronavirus from entering Wales came into force on Friday.
Paul Davies, Conservative Senedd leader of the opposition, said he wants ministers to address the Senedd on Monday.
“I think it is appalling what we’ve heard over the last few days,” he told the BBC.
“We heard the First Minister say on Friday making it absolutely clear they hadn’t made a decision and we see this letter being leaked saying they had made a decision and even giving timescales.
“That is unacceptable. They should come now to the Senedd on Monday to make a statement and explain that, and also explain what their plans are.
“It is unacceptable they are briefing organisations before they come to the Senedd and make a statement.”
Mr Davies said the Conservatives could not support a temporary lockdown until they have “seen the details”.
“I am not going to support a temporary national lockdown until I know what the details are, what packages they will have to support businesses and people during that period.”
Plaid’s Sian Gwenllian said a national fire-break is “regrettably necessary”, but she criticised the “drip-feeding” of information into the public domain.
“We are concerned about the delay in making the decision and communicating it to the people and businesses of Wales,” she said.
“The Welsh Government must urgently set out its plans for a national fire-breaker through a ministerial statement on Monday morning at the latest.”
Meanwhile, there have been a further 950 cases of Covid-19 diagnosed in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 35,628.
Public Health Wales said three further deaths had been reported, with the total number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic rising to 1,711.
A Welsh Government spokesman said:
“The measures we have put in place at both a local and a national level, with help from the people of Wales, have kept the spread of Covid-19 under check.
“However, there is a growing consensus we now need to introduce a different set of measures and actions to respond to the virus as it continues to spread across Wales more quickly during the autumn and winter months ahead.
“Ministers have held a number of meetings over the weekend with senior Welsh Government officials, scientists and public health experts to consider their advice on a potential need for a ‘fire break’ set of measures to control the virus.
“The Welsh Cabinet met this evening to consider that advice. The Cabinet will meet again tomorrow morning to make a final decision.
“The First Minister will update the people of Wales on any decisions taken tomorrow.”
Published: 19/10/2020 by Radio NewsHub