First Minister Mark Drakeford on a 'year full of regret' and lessons learned from Covid outbreak in Wales

"It’s a year full of regret," said First Minister Mark Drakeford when I asked him what he regretted when he reflects on twelve months of unprecedented decisions. 

"Regret for people who've lost their lives, regret for people whose businesses haven't been able to thrive, regrets for those young people whose lives have been on hold.

"In terms of the way the government has approached things there are things we know know that we didn't know 12 months ago and had we known those things we would have done things differently."

Such as not allowing two Stereophonics concerts to go ahead on the 14th and 15th March or intervening to stop the Wales v Scotland Six Nations match, which was then cancelled.

"Well I think if we’d known at the beginning of March, what we know now, then we would have been quicker to have closed quite a lot of things down, but at the time, the advice of people seeing all this for the very first time was that things could continue and they wouldn't pose a risk. We know differently about that today."

The first UK-wide lockdown was announced a year ago. Credit: PA Images

Since that moment caution has been the watchword of the Welsh Government. "A deliberate policy approach," he told me.

The advice he and his ministers were getting was to move "step by step," carefully and cautiously and so that’s what they did. 

At times over the last year it’s left him open to criticism. He’s overzealous, some say. He’s anti-drinking, anti-pubs and anti-business, taking advantage of the pandemic to push through a regulation-heavy, strictly-controlled left-wing agenda. 

"Absolutely no truth at all in that," he told me. "I wish that we could lift restrictions as fast as we could and that normal life gets restored as fast as possible.

"That's, of course, is what we would like. But when you get advice that tells you that would lose people's lives, that you would cause the virus to be in even more rapid circulation in Wales then if you're a responsible government you have to act on what you're being advised."

The First Minister says it has been a 'year full of regret'. Credit: PA Images

He rejects too the charge of doing things differently to the rules as imposed in England by the UK Government, just because devolution means he can. 

"I never wanted to be different for the sake of being different and always believed myself that the four nation approach would be the one that would stand us in the best stead, but we have the responsibility here in Wales, the Senedd has it.

"And when it has been right to take our own decisions, in order to protect people in Wales, then, we haven't hesitated to do it and I don't apologise for it at all."

The pandemic has pushed Mark Drakeford into the spotlight in a way that he could never have anticipated when he became First Minister in 2018. He’s spent more than half of his time in post dealing with it. 

Polling suggests he has quite a lot of support for the decisions that he’s taken. But the people of Wales will make crystal clear their verdict on those decisions when they vote in May’s Senedd Election

A special tribute has been made on the Bwlch mountain to remember those we have lost.

As we look back on the past year, and also forward to what the future brings, for many families, life will never be the same again.

Those mourning loved ones have had to grieve without family and friends at funerals; and for many of them, that makes today all the more significant.

Bev Johnson created a special yellow heart on the Bwlch mountain to remember her Mum who died after contracting coronavirus.

Bev created the special memorial for her Mum.

Bev Johnson said: : "I think in RCT especially, every single person would know someone who's lost somebody or who has by now been affected by the Covid.

"It's definitely helped the grieving process - I feel like I'm doing something.

"Because you haven't got a chance to grieve at the moment - the funerals, you can't grieve in the funerals, you can't grieve after."