This is an opinion piece by award winning Welsh columnist, Matthew Paul. Matthew is the Welsh Media Awards Columnist of the Year 2019.
At last. After four months in lockdown, First Minister Mark Drakeford has finally set out his road map to unlock Wales. ‘Non-essential’ retail can start clawing back whatever scraps of trade Amazon hasn’t devoured from 12th April. Outdoor hospitality recommences on 26th, and we may be trusted to eat and drink indoors with other people some time around the end of May.
While it’s unlikely we would have been afforded even this degree of freedom if there weren’t a Welsh election around the corner, Drakeford thinks that allowing the Welsh people these sort of liberties is most generous of him, and we are urged to follow the rules or find ourselves back on the naughty step.
Anomalously, treating a whole nation like naughty children has proven popular. In part, this is because the UK and Welsh Governments were very successful in scaring their populations witless, and a lot of people who have very little to fear from Covid-19 regard catching it as a death sentence.
In part, it’s because the minor injuries unit and GP surgery long since displaced the chapel as the repository of everything in Wales that is holy. NHS staff have had a year of people referring to them, with apparent seriousness, as ‘brave angels’, and –much as Adam Price basks in being called the Mab Darogan– are starting to believe it themselves. The lockdown was a sort of secular crusade that everyone had to get behind. Lockdown sceptics were selfish heretics, to be burned on social media.
It is of course correct that Covid-19 is, or was, a serious threat to some people. The pandemic hit Wales particularly hard because –not to pussyfoot around the issue– so many of the Welsh are lazy, bloated, chip-stuffed fat knackers. People who spend most waking hours digging their own graves with their teeth, and making themselves far more vulnerable to the Covid in the process.
There is nothing wrong with this in itself. With very few exceptions, becoming obese is an individual’s own free choice and it is not politicians’ business to interfere. The process of getting disgustingly fat is usually an enjoyable one, even if the long-term consequences are dire. Five thousand people in Wales have died of the Covid (and the Welsh Government treat this as a valid reason to shut the whole country down), but around twenty thousand die every year of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, brought on or exacerbated by obesity.
The relationship between food and weight isn’t hard to understand. Consume more calories than you burn, and you get fat. Burn more calories than you consume, and you don’t. To lose weight, eat less and do more exercise. Although they quite obviously don’t understand how to run an economy or efficient public services, Welsh Labour ought at least to understand this.
No-one is suggesting that the Welsh Government should use the criminal justice system, or threats of military force to herd the obese into gymnasiums, however much this would benefit the nation’s health and at however reasonable a cost; but it is puzzling that, despite the Covid regulations already permitting barbers to ruffle their hands through customers’ hair, and shoppers to pick up, fondle, then restore to the shelf objects that have been similarly handled by a hundred other shoppers, we still aren’t allowed to go to the gym.
There may be some political logic to this. Perhaps Labour voters –more often seen on a mobility scooter than an exercise bike– don’t give a stuff about gyms and just want the boozer and the chippy open. Perhaps exercise, like living in a big modern house with no furniture, is a bit of a Plaid Cymru thing to do.
Certainly, Mark Drakeford doesn’t look like a man who works out very regularly, and it has fallen to appearance-conscious Adam Price and muscle-man Andrew RT Davies to call on Drakeford to deal with the absurd anomaly that while the English will be getting their beach bodies in shape in just under a fortnight, the Welsh will still be sitting on the sofa with a takeaway.
There have been some stupid, irrational laws inflicted on us through the pandemic but this –actively preventing people from improving their health– should be in line for some sort of award. Gym owners are fed up, and a number of them, led by Dai Watkins, a former special forces soldier who runs The Gym Shed in Llandovery, have decided to take legal action against the Welsh Government. They have sent Mark Drakeford a pre-action letter demanding that he re-open gyms in Wales (like England) by April 12th, or face Big Dai across the floor of the Administrative Court.
The Government has now done all it reasonably can to protect vulnerable people from Covid-19. Leisure businesses and gyms are going to the wall, and if we lose them the damage to public health in Wales will be long-lasting. There is no evidence that gyms pose a high risk of spreading the virus, but in any event, now that everyone at serious risk from Covid has been vaccinated, there is no longer any excuse for placing unnecessary restrictions on our freedom.
If those of us with any enthusiasm for such things aren’t allowed back in the gym by 12th April, we will need to find other ways of keeping active. Like finding your local Labour candidate, and kicking them on the arse.
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