Gething: Eat Out to Help Out 'was a mistake' and the Welsh Government should have entered lockdown earlier

Watch the video report by ITV Wales journalist Owain Phillips

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme was a mistake, the Welsh Government should have gone into lockdown earlier and the construction of coronavirus field hospitals was merited despite them not being called upon as had initially been expected, Wales' Health Minister has said.

Vaughan Gething made the remarks in an interview with ITV Wales as he reflected on a year of living with the coronavirus pandemic in Wales.

Wales has been in and out of lockdown restrictions since the pandemic began a year ago Credit: PA Images

Mr Gething said, with the benefit of hindsight, the Welsh Government would have gone into lockdown earlier to protect people and attempt to limit the spread of the virus.

"I'm convinced that knowing what we know now we'd have gone into lockdown earlier," he said.

"We'd have taken measures even earlier."

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme was announced by the UK Chancellor in an effort to assist the country's flagging economy Credit: PA Images

On the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, an economic stimulus measure introduced by the UK Chancellor to support the country's badly hit hospitality sector, Mr Gething indicated he felt it may have been unnecessary at the time.

"Eat Out to Help Out got lots of people to go out and eat when actually, after the reality that people couldn't go out and eat more freely anyway you probably didn't need that to stoke more people going out," he said.

"There's a study which suggests that it was part of the challenge that led to a recirculation."

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, has defended the meal subsidy scheme and said it was intended to protect people's jobs and livelihoods.

Mr Gething said testing was a challenge constrained by international supply chains Credit: PA Images

When it came to the issue of coronavirus testing, Mr Gething said plans and preparations were constrained by international supply chains and so were not entirely within the Government's control.

He said: "There are some things that even with what we know now we couldn't have got in place.

"So, for example, the testing ability to scale up our testing, Public Health Wales ordered testing equipment for Wales in January and early February, it was held up significantly and didn't arrive because of export challenges in other countries."

The Llandarcy Academy of Sport in Neath was converted into a coronavirus field hospital with a capacity for 340 patients Credit: PA Images

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when the NHS was judged to be dangerously close to becoming overwhelmed, a number of field hospitals were constructed across Wales to help protect hospital capacity.

Asked if, in retrospect, the field hospitals were not needed, Mr Gething said they provided a valuable function despite not being called upon in the manner they could have been.

"We didn't have lots of staff standing around idle in those field hospitals," the Health Minister said.

"And actually we learnt from the first wave.

"So in the second wave we reduced the amount of capacity we needed in field hospitals and field hospitals have been used, to help people recover when they no longer need an acute bed."

Opposition parties have been critical of the Welsh Government's handling of the pandemic throughout the crisis.

Angela Burns MS, the Conservative Shadow Health Minister, said the Government made wrong decisions around care homes by not testing residents returning from hospitals.

She said: "Allowing people to go back into care-homes without being tested for Covid when they left hospital just enabled that awful virus to be lit like a fire and rampage through our care homes. - the staff were the same issues.”

Plaid Cyrmu called for a Wales-only independent inquiry and said Wales' health and social care sector was not in a position to handle the crisis.

Rhun ap Iorwerth, Plaid's Shadow Health Minister, said: "There should be a wales only independent inquiry after this so that questions can really be asked in depth about what might have been done differently and lessons might be learnt.

"But one thing I think became clear very early on and that is that Wales and our health and care sector was not prepared for this pandemic."

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