Friday, 29 May 2020

Gradual easing needs more detailed advice

It appears that most people in Wales are still backing the more cautious approach of the Welsh government rather than the more reckless approach being taken in England. That seems to me completely appropriate – even if we could believe a word that the English PM utters, his approach seems to be ignoring the best scientific advice. Wales’ moves are driven by minimising the death toll, England’s only by ensuring that the number of people hospitalised doesn’t exceed capacity.
In his statement today, the First Minister seemed to be rowing back a little at least from the widely briefed ‘five mile rule’ for contact between households. That’s sensible in principle – the rule as originally rumoured looked like a very Cardiff-centric approach. A five-mile radius circle around the Senedd would be around 50% uninhabited sea, but the landward half would still include around 300-350,000 people. That’s potentially a lot of social mixing. On the other hand, a five-mile radius circle around my home would be entirely on dry land but include no more than 6-7,000 people. It’s more rural than most admittedly, but not untypical of much of Wales. The difference between the two highlights the difficulty in applying a single standard rule to the whole of a country where such a high proportion of the population are concentrated in a small area.
I can understand why the former Tory leader in the Senedd calls it an ‘arbitrary’ distance, and he’s right to do so. And the First Minister is right to refer to it as a ‘general rule’ rather than an absolute one. But that doesn’t help the police in deciding how and when to enforce the rule, and it doesn’t help those who live in more rural areas to decide, in a responsible fashion, what is or is not ‘reasonable’ in the circumstances. Absolute rules are much easier to enforce but will be less appropriate as lockdown is gradually eased, as this one instance already highlights. The less absolute the rules, the more guidance on interpretation will be required, by the police as well as the public. The First Minister’s caution has rightly been well-supported across Wales to date, but if he wants to maintain that support (and he certainly needs to), then his government will need to put more time and effort into fleshing out the guidance.


Anonymous said...

I think it's the exact same scientific advice given to all four provinces, just different political interpretations in the smallest of areas. Blue car versus red car stuff when the owner is colour-blind.

Just recall the Grenfell Tower tragedy for a moment. Ordinary citizens were instructed by those in authority to 'stay in their apartments'. The sensible folk ignored the advice and got their families the hell out of the burning mess. Many of the others sadly perished.

I pretty much ignore Mark Drakford, the Prime Minister has consistently taken the right approach. Follow the guidelines if you think they are appropriate to you and your family needs. Deviate if you believe you have good reason so to do.

The only rocket science in all of this is what the scientists are doing.

John Dixon said...

"I think it's the exact same scientific advice given to all four provinces.." Leaving aside your intentionally pejorative use of the term 'provinces' and concentrating on the substance, the answer is that it isn't. The advice given will depend on the questions asked, and all advice depends on the models being used to generate it. Different models using different assumptions (including ones based on geography) will give different answers, especially if the question is also different.

"The sensible folk ignored the advice..." Ah, the old Jacob Rees-Mogg position that only stupid people follow official advice. Sometimes, the 'authorities' get it wrong, of course; but calling those people who follow official advice 'stupid' (even doing it simply by by implication by labelling those who don't as 'sensible') is a remarkably unhelpful line to take. And also very arrogant.

"I pretty much ignore Mark Drakeford, the Prime Minister has consistently taken the right approach." I suppose that there has to be someone, somewhere who believes that the Prime Minister of England has taken the right approach, but you are in an increasingly small minority according to the polls.

"Follow the guidelines if you think they are appropriate to you and your family needs. Deviate if you believe you have good reason so to do." Your name wouldn't be Dominic by any chance, would it? The idea that laws and rules are merely 'guidance' and that we can all do whatever we want is very much a Tory philosophy. In some aspects of life, it actually works as long as you have the contacts and the wherewithal to ignore the law with impunity. I won't argue that anyone has got everything right during the pandemic, although some have done better than others. Whether Boris Johnson has done well or badly rather than depends on whether you think the highest death rate per million in the world is an achievement to be proud of (he said he wanted to make us world leaders) or a failure to be ashamed of. I'm in the latter camp - you seem to be in the former.

Anonymous said...

I think you over-egg the differences between Wales and the other constituent parts of the UK. As Mark Drakeford was only too keen to point out recently, 'if Wales isn't different what is the point of Welsh Assembly?'.

I've been asking that very question for the past twenty years.

John Dixon said...

"I think you over-egg the differences between Wales and the other constituent parts of the UK." Really? Where did I say that? I really do think that you ought to try and read the words actually written rather than responding to what you wish I said.

"...if Wales isn't different what is the point of Welsh Assembly?" I disagree with the question; things don't have to be different to justify the existence of the Senedd. Democracy has a value in itself.

Anonymous said...

Matt Hancock today (Monday) confirmed that exact same advice is given to all four territories, 'we are one country', he said.

He went on to say, the regions can make small changes but the ultimate responsibility for public health still remains with the UK government.

I think that clears everything up.

John Dixon said...

You do realise that yesterday was the 1st June, not the 1st April, don't you? Because treating the words of a minister in the current English government as likely to be anything even approximating the truth is little more than a joke.

"...exact same advice is given to all four territories" In the sense that advice given to one government is shared with that given to the other governments, then it is probably 'true'. They all see all the advice - I accept that. But each government has its own advisors and they provide more specific, tailored advice to their respective governments, which those governments use to tailor their policies.

"'we are one country', he said." But Matt Hancock saying something doesn't make it true. And he is, in this case, factually incorrect. The UK is 'one state', but it is a state composed of more than one country; conflating the two is a classic mistake of nomenclature.

"... the ultimate responsibility for public health still remains with the UK government." That just demonstrates that he simply doesn't understand devolution. And neither, I suspect, do you. But to misquote an old saying, it is difficult to persuade someone of the truth of something when his own perception of the world depends on him not understanding it.

Matt Hancock has cleared up that situation in the same sense as he has cleared up the position on testing, PPE and everything else - by obfuscating, confusing and lying.