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An open or shut case?

Divisions are opening over the future of Welsh businesses and tourism as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased – but has Drakeford managed to get the policy about right, asks TESS DELANEY

THE fissure that divides Wales is getting much bigger. Within moments of Mark Drakeford announcing new lockdown-lifting measures social media had gone batty.

Wales’s response to the Covid crisis has been one of caution, basing its response on “the science” much more closely, it would seem, than their English counterparts. 

The five-mile rule which was enforced a few weeks ago has unofficially been relaxed since, with words like “ballpark” and definitions of “local” being thrown around. 

But basically, in rural Wales, you have to go more than five miles to get a pint of milk. 

Many families are scattered widely over counties. If you live in rural Wales, as I do, you become accustomed to driving for half an hour just to find another human, so the five-mile rule thing was met with much disdain. 

Senedd minister Eluned Morgan managed to calm the waters, by letting people in rural areas know that these rules were stretchable, and everyone seemed to settle into a common sense way of doing things, in that local became your usual local circle. If your shop is 20 minutes away, then that’s your local. That was good. It worked well. 

Businesses have been chomping at the bit to reopen however. Pubs, cafes, hairdressers, were all wondering when their turn will be. They’d been patient, and were finally allowed to reopen at the beginning of last week.

The tourism sector has its own champion, however. Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart put his oar in and began to put pressure on Drakeford. 

The tourism industry is suffering, it’s true, but we’ve all been hoping that a gentle return to proceedings would be peddled, especially as Wales has been so cautious up until now. 

Some businesses are now able to open. But people are wondering why clothes shopping is OK, but visiting relatives is not. The mileage restriction has been eased for those visiting others on “compassionate grounds” and, this month, it’s proposed that Wales will again open for tourism business. No county restrictions, not even a Wales restriction. Nope. Our borders will be thrown open and people are up in arms. They’ve all seen the pictures of the English at the beach and they’re mortified. 

One caveat for holidaymakers, however, is that only self-contained units will be able to take residents. That is, holiday cottages, static caravans, second homes. Tents, or simple camping set-ups without their own toilet facilities are barred, due to all public facilities being closed. 

Once again, just like when they opened up the golf courses for exercise first, it’s looking suspiciously like the working classes are again going to be left out of this freedom bid. 

If you can’t afford a self-contained unit then you can’t go on holiday. Simple as. 

Yet others will be allowed to come, stay, go walkabout in the deserted, socially distanced towns, where there is no room for social distancing of big numbers, because they’re very little towns. 

Many parts of Wales have stayed pretty much entirely Covid-free. People are only just getting their heads around the schools opening back up, let alone the grockles invading. 

Except, that is, the poor buggers who run businesses heavily reliant on tourism. And so, again, we see another divide occurring. Some are terrified, and want Wales to stay closed until all danger has passed. 

Others are desperate for things to get back to normal, insisting that Covid-19 has done its worst. 

But has it done its worst? Is it on its way out? You’d think so, the way everyone is acting. 

But the media has worked a treat, and it depends what media you read or watch as to which side you’re on. 

The government surely wouldn’t put everyone’s lives at risk just for the economy, would it? Surely not. 

This sudden change of heart from Drakeford can’t all be down to pressure from Hart and his legion of freedom fighters, can it? 

It seems Drakeford can’t win. He’s damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t. No matter which way he flips, there are a band of hoodlums ready to take his head off and boo him like a pantomime villain. He’s taking our freedoms! Oh no he isn’t! He’s letting us die! Oh no he isn’t! 

In the olden days, decisions got made, passed down to the masses, the papers said a thing, and that was that. 

The most contact a politician had to have with the public was at a rally, where they were all mercifully miles away in the audience. The papers may diss you, but that’s what papers were for. You may even have ended up with a Spitting Image puppet, if you were lucky. That was your scrutiny. 

But now, within seconds of any decision-maker speaking, even before the sentence is finished, the public are out with their pitchforks and torches, ready with the portable gallows. 

Whether you’re a fan of Drakeford or not — and many in my county are not, in that he has a reputation for being instrumental in the decision to close down Withybush hospital, the much-loved icon of the county — you can’t fail to see that he faces an impossible task. 

The economy in Wales needs all the help it can get at the best of times. Here we find ourselves at the mercy of policy, which, let’s face it, probably get decided by someone completely different, and Drakeford gets sent out as the puppet whipping boy to be the messenger. 

Which begs the question of course that we always ask. Who exactly is running the show? 

It’s not the people, that’s for sure.

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