Boris Johnson’s former communications chief praises Wales’ October 2020 COVID “Firebreak” lockdown decision
In testimony before the UK Covid Inquiry, Lee Cain, former communications chief for Boris Johnson, commended the Welsh government for its “correct decision” to implement a “decisive” and “politically advantageous” three-week lockdown in October 2020.
During this period, residents were instructed to stay at home, and businesses such as pubs, restaurants, hotels, and non-essential shops were required to close.
Additionally, gatherings, both indoors and outdoors, with individuals not from the same household were prohibited.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford characterised it as a “short, sharp, shock to turn back the clock, slow down the virus, and buy us more time.”
During a press conference at the time, Mr. Drakeford emphasised that without action, the NHS would struggle to cope.
The Welsh lockdown, which England would later adopt two weeks afterward, resulted in a dispute with the UK Treasury.
Then Chancellor Rishi Sunak declined to expedite the introduction of the new Job Support Scheme (JSS) to replace the furlough scheme, which would have provided additional support for Welsh workers, causing anxiety among many about potential job loss.
In a letter addressed to Mr. Drakeford, Sunak explained his rejection of implementing the JSS, which would have covered 67% of wages, a month earlier due to “limitations in HMRC delivery timescales.”
In his witness statement to the inquiry, Mr. Cain revealed that during a meeting in the Cabinet room in Westminster on 21 September 2020, heard that:overwhelming expert opinion that if the (UK) government did not take action in the form of a circuit breaker, Covid would once again spread rampantly across the UK”.
“That would leave no other option than a longer more restrictive lockdown in the months ahead,”.
The statement went on to say that “by late October Covid rates had continued to rise and were at risk of getting out of control.”
In due course, the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared a nationwide lockdown for England, commencing on November 5, 2020, and extending for one month.
The comprehensive inquiry, encompassing the entire UK, was initiated in June and might extend for up to three years, focusing primarily on the UK government’s handling of the pandemic.
The Welsh government has declined requests for a Wales-specific investigation and has endorsed the overarching UK-wide inquiry.