Parliament returned physically this week after the recess and we all had to return to London in order to vote in person on the UK Government’s plans to end the ‘hybrid Parliament’. It was farcical to see MPs attempting to socially distance (some more successfully than others) as they queued across the Parliamentary estate in a set up resembling the entrance to Disneyland! The ‘Mogg conga’ took an age to complete and it beggars belief that with all the innovation we’ve seen through this pandemic, safe, electronic ways of voting could not be maintained. Not only are we disenfranchising the constituents of MPs who are older, shielding, or have caring responsibilities, we are also setting an extremely poor example to employers – and all so Boris Johnson can have more MPs cheering for him in Prime Minister’s Questions.
As you will have seen, there were some changes to lockdown measures here in Wales this week. Those who have been shielding for the last three months can now exercise outside and meet others from a different household, providing that meeting takes place outside and social distancing and strict hygiene is practised. With fewer coronavirus cases, the risk of transmission outside is lower than it was, but people should still be cautious and maintain the 2-metre distance at all times.
We’ve also learnt that schools in Wales will reopen to more pupils on 29 June, with the summer term being extended by a week to 27 July. The next academic year will begin as normal in September, but the autumn half-term will be extended to two weeks. In each school, pupils will return in phases and year groups will be split into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons, and breaks to ensure that only around a third of pupils will be inside school buildings at any one time. This will allow them to better practise social distancing while still having the necessary time with their teacher and classmates. Welsh Government will publish guidance next week on how schools can manage the logistical challenges and the cleaning required.
We’ve all been horrified by the terrible images coming out of America this week. The killing of George Floyd by police has shone a light on the racism and hatred experienced by many across the world, including in our own country – but particularly the racism experienced by Black people across the world. It’s up to us all to face up to and address this. We also saw worrying evidence this week that members of the BAME community have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. I’m pleased that the Welsh Government have launched a new risk assessment for BAME workers in our NHS and social care to ensure that they are protected as much as possible.
You may have seen me on the ITV Wales News this week discussing the addictive nature of gambling and the risk it poses to people. During lockdown, people have been separated from their support networks and have fallen into gambling with a huge impact on both their bank balances and their mental health. It’s heart-breaking to hear the stories of people bombarded with advertising and the trouble that they’ve got themselves, and often their family, into. We urgently need to protect these people from a predatory industry that views them merely as cash cows.
I met with a few of the Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hair, Beauty, and Wellbeing today. We were discussing the challenges that will be facing the industry now we are beginning to ease lockdown. We’ve heard in the news about the black market industry that has developed during lockdown with hairdressers and beauticians offering their services despite the rules on social distancing and not going into other people’s homes. It’s clear that people are missing their haircuts (I know I am!), but we must ensure that the return to normality protects people’s health above all else as well as supporting the small businesses that operate in every town and city across the country.
You can keep up to date with Welsh Government announcements and information on their dedicated coronavirus page. As always, if you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. My staff are continuing to work from home, and are as always, here to help in whatever way they can.
I hope you all keep well and remember – stay home, save lives – and keep washing your hands!